Won't donate to the opera? We'll sue you…

Won't donate to the opera? We'll sue you…


norman lebrecht

April 29, 2011

The case of the missing Lucerne Opera House is heading for the courts.

Briefly, and in order not to tangle myself in legal ribbons, a very rich German called Engelhorn promised more than $100 million to the Swiss lakeside town to build a flexible, modern opera house, styled a Salle Modulable. He died, and the trust controlling his estate won’t give the money. So the Swiss are suing.
Lucerne is not a poor town. Nor is anyone else in the story (especially the lawyers).
If there’s a morality tale here, please tell me. Try as I might, I can’t find it.
Here’s the Lucerne press release:



Press release

Salle Modulable Foundation files a suit against Butterfield


Lucerne, April 29,
2011 –
The Salle Modulable
Foundation is taking legal action against Butterfield Trust Ltd. (Butterfield)
after the latter arbitrarily withdrew its commitment to provide financing. The
Foundation has filed a corresponding request for conciliatory hearing against
Butterfield with the Lucerne Justice of Peace. At a press conference, to be
held at 11 a.m. in the KKL Luzern, Hubert Achermann, Chairman of the Salle
Modulable Foundation, and Michael Haefliger, Delegate of the Salle Modulable
Foundation, will give the media more information and will be available for
questions and interviews.


In a letter dated August 23, 2007, Butterfield, referring
to discussions held with Christof Engelhorn, confirmed its willingness to
support the construction of a modern music theater in Lucerne with the
provision of up to CHF 120 million. Christof Engelhorn had agreed to this
support via a Bermuda-based trust founded by him and represented by Butterfield
as trustee. This agreement was based on a project study for a “Salle Modulable”
financed by Mr Engelhorn and implemented by the Lucerne Festival. He was keen
on the idea of helping his adopted home city of Lucerne become an innovative
cultural center for modern musical theater of major international repute.


Financing commitment
confirmed on several occasions

Up until his death in August 2010, Christof Engelhorn
had given no cause to doubt his intention to finance this project. The trustee
Butterfield, too, confirmed the commitment of the Butterfield Trust in several
letters. In addition to the location – Lucerne – and the maximum amount to be
provided, the only conditions for the financing were the provision of a
feasibility study and a sustainable operating concept, as the financial support
was to be restricted exclusively to project planning and construction. Work on
the project, run by the Salle Modulable Foundation, which had been set up in
April 2008, progressed at a fast pace thanks to the funds totaling CHF 5.75
million that had been transferred by Butterfield from February 2008 onward.


For three years, representatives of the city and
canton of Lucerne, together with the Lucerne-based cultural institutions the
Lucerne Festival, Lucerne Theater and the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra as well as
the Lucerne School of Music, were committed to developing a concept for a music
theater in Lucerne that offered flexibility and cutting-edge technology. All
those involved recognized the potential such a project had for the cultural
life of Lucerne, but also for the general positioning of the city and the
Lucerne region:

With the integration of the musical theater
sector, the internationally successful Lucerne Festival has the ideal
enhancement to its concept, a move which also reinforces its position in
international competition.

The Lucerne Theater solves its existing
infrastructural problems efficiently and is able to develop further, in
artistic terms, as a multi-sector establishment.

The Lucerne Symphony Orchestra receives the
infrastructural support necessary to deliver high-quality musical theater.

Lucerne is to be home to a cultural center of
major international repute that is unique worldwide, thus making the city even
more attractive, and boosting tourism and the economy.




All conditions met

In December 2010, the project development organization
founded for this purpose unveiled its overall concept, which shows detailed
proof of the project’s feasibility at the Lido site, and is being jointly
supported by the representatives of the city and canton of Lucerne and the
Salle Modulable Foundation. The concept estimates an investment volume of CHF
157 million, taking account of Butterfield’s contribution of CHF 120 million.
The overall concept also includes a realistic and sustainable operating plan,
meaning that the conditions for Butterfield’s financing commitment are met.


Trustee reneges
arbitrarily on commitment and disregards the wishes of the trust settlor

For this reason, the Salle Modulable Foundation is not
prepared to accept Butterfield’s withdrawal of its commitment to provide
financing, made on specious grounds in October 2010, shortly after the death of
Christof Engelhorn. There is no substantive reason for this. Moreover, it was
done expressly against the wishes of Christof Engelhorn, initiator of the
project and settlor of the trust. The Foundation has therefore decided to
challenge the arbitrary withdrawal of the commitment to provide financing and
to claim the outstanding amount, totaling CHF 114.25 million, from the
Butterfield Trust through the courts. The Foundation has filed a corresponding
request for conciliatory hearing with the Lucerne Justice of Peace.


Foundation to fight
for its rights

The Foundation only decided to take this step after
due deliberation and intensive consultation with legal experts in Switzerland,
England and Bermuda. After receiving clarification from said experts, it is
convinced that it is worth fighting for the project, not just as a matter of
principle, but also in view of the legal situation. This being said, the
Foundation also understands that cultural planning in Lucerne must go on. As
Butterfield’s binding commitment to provide financing for the construction of a
new music theater in Lucerne was not connected to any timetable, a successful
outcome of the proceedings would still be beneficial for Lucerne and its
cultural institutions, even if it did not come until a later point in time.


Hubert Achermann, Chairman of the Salle Modulable
Foundation: “It is with great regret that we have to resort to this measure. We
would gladly have avoided it, but Butterfield have left us with no choice.
Based on the committed support of Christof Engelhorn and the binding commitment
from the trustee, we have worked, together with the city and canton of Lucerne
as well as Lucerne’s major cultural institutions, for the past three years in a
most professional manner to realize the idea of a modern music theater for
Lucerne. We owe it to our partners, the city, the region and, last but not
least, to Christof Engelhorn himself, to fight for this idea.”


Information about
press conference today at 11 a.m. in the KKL Luzern, Club Room 3 + 4

Hubert Achermann, Chairman of the Salle Modulable Foundation,
and Michael Haefliger, Delegate of the Salle Modulable Foundation, will be
providing further information on this matter at an event for interested media
representatives to be held today at 11 a.m. in the KKL Luzern. They will also
be available for questions and interviews. Media representatives are invited to
submit their interview questions to the Foundation’s Media Officer: Andreas
Hildenbrand, Tel. +41 79 468 92 35.




  • BobG says:

    Isn’t the moral that Lucerne acted in good faith on a promise from a rich benefactor and now is left holding the bag? Although someone should have thought to get it in writing! But it’s a good question–are trustees, heirs, whatever–under any obligation to fulfill a deceased person’s wishes?