Prominent Out Conductor Marin Alsop Slams 'TÁR' as 'Anti-Woman'

Saturday January 14, 2023
Originally published on January 10, 2023

 Marin Alsop
Marin Alsop   

In the opening sequence of "TÁR," the world-class conductor Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) is interviewed by the New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik where she is asked about gender bias in classical music. "As to the question of gender bias, I have nothing to complain about," Blanchett's Tár says. "Nor, for that matter, should Nathalie Stutzmann, Laurence Equilbey, Marin Alsop, or JoAnn Falletta. There were so many incredible women who came before us, women who did the real lifting."

But Marin Alsop, one of the conductors she cites, has spoken out about Todd Field's drama, which follows the fall from public favor of Tár after allegations of sexual misconduct; and she sees little to relate to or like. As reported by Entertainment Weekly, the 66-year old conductor told the Sunday Times (behind a paywall) the acclaimed drama is "anti-woman."

In the film, Lydia Tár is in a same-sex marriage with a player from the Berlin Philharmonic, which she conducts. But an angry assistant sets in motion a string of events that reveal her using her position of power to abuse her subordinates.

Alsop said the film offended her "as a woman, as a conductor, [and] as a lesbian" in an interview with The Sunday Times.

Cate Blanchett in "TÁR."
Cate Blanchett in "TÁR."  

Variety wrote that a "number of viewers, including New York Times writer Zachary Woolfe, have spotted parallels between Alsop and Tár, such as the fact that both are Leonard Bernstein protegees, both are lesbians, both are married to orchestral musicians (with whom they have children) and both were, until recently, the only women to lead a big orchestra (Alsop at Baltimore, Tár at the Berlin Philharmonic.)"

"I first read about it in late August and I was shocked that that was the first I was hearing of it," Alsop said. "So many superficial aspects of 'TÁR' seemed to align with my own personal life. But once I saw it I was no longer concerned, I was offended: I was offended as a woman, I was offended as a conductor, I was offended as a lesbian."

She continued: "To have an opportunity to portray a woman in that role and to make her an abuser — for me that was heartbreaking. I think all women and all feminists should be bothered by that kind of depiction because it's not really about women conductors, is it? It's about women as leaders in our society. People ask, 'Can we trust them? Can they function in that role?' It's the same questions whether it's about a CEO or an NBA coach or the head of a police department."

She called the film anti-woman. "There are so many men — actual, documented men — this film could have been based on but, instead, it puts a woman in the role but gives her all the attributes of those men. That feels anti-woman. To assume that women will either behave identically to men or become hysterical, crazy, insane is to perpetuate something we've already seen on film so many times before."

Given the scandals that have rocked the classical music world in the past 20 years, there are plenty of models: James Levine and Charles Dutoit come immediately to mind, but also Placido Domingo, who continued to perform after accusations were made.

Field, who wrote the script, chose not to have a male in the lead, despite the numerous role models for him to follow. "I think that it's fairly clear that the times that we're living in, that the lens of the great white man is a fairly well-viewed prism," Field said. "And I think that by looking through that prism, there's a lot of very simple defaults in terms of how we examine certain ideas and look at some ideas and potentially have a conversation that's rather limited."

He continued: "So I wasn't really interested in doing that. I wanted to really talk about power and about the structures that are the pipelines that are in place for power — in this case in a kind of temple of art — and really look at power itself and try to get beyond the stop sign of classification in terms of man, women, or whatever, in terms of objectifying the prism in that manner."

Lead star Blanchett previously told IndieWire that the character of Lydia Tár was born out of a conversation with writer-director Todd Field in September 2020 about the state of the world. "The character came out of those rich conversations," Blanchett said. "When I read it, I was so daunted by the ask of it — not just what was necessary to play the character, but also the depth of questioning in the screenplay and my relationship to it, which kept shifting depending on which scene we were shooting or which relationship we were focused on that day."

Alsop herself has been the subject of a feature documentary, Bernadette Wegenstein's "The Conductor," which was released in 2021.