Alberto Vilar ‘tried to save City Opera’

Alberto Vilar ‘tried to save City Opera’


norman lebrecht

October 14, 2013

A letter to the Editor of the New York Times, demanding a correction of its statement that Vilar’s promised gifts ‘never materialized’. The Times’s assertion is both untrue and defamatory. Within the letter, we learn that Vilar reached out to City Opera in its dying weeks.

alberto vilar met


Dear Madam,                                                                                    

Your front-page article on Saturday, October 5, “A Frenzied Last-Act Effort to Save City Opera” states that Alberto W. Vilar “promised huge gifts to the Metropolitan Opera that never materialized and who was later jailed for fraud.”
Your statement about the gifts to the Met is false. This season alone the Met is showing one of more than a half dozen operas, Rossini’s ‘La Cenerentola’ that Mr. Vilar had paid for at a cost of $2 million each.
While Mr. Vilar did meet with City Opera President George Steel recently, he couldn’t have helped even if he had wanted to because the government has frozen his personal and corporate funds as well as his pension account for the past 8 1/2 years. Sadly, if anyone could have saved City Opera, it well would have been Mr Vilar.
The article also failed to mention that Mr. Vilar’s current defense team has unearthed considerable exculpatory evidence that has been in the public record for at least two years and could result in a new trial. Specifically, the government has yet to find one cent missing from clients’ accounts. In short there were no victims. The government took the simply incredulous liberty of reclassifying as losses $22 million in capital gains for two offshore clients.
The government’s practice of freezing criminal case defendants’ assets, without ever having to prove the existence of ill-gotten gains, fortunately is up for review by the Supreme Court this year. (See for example WSJ OP-ED Oct 7, 2013 by Harvey Silverglate).
As the old saying goes: It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.
Walter Pfaeffle, New York
Former paralegal on Mr. Vilar’s defense team


  • It is ridiculous to say Mr. Vilar could have saved the NYCO. With a minimum budget of around 60 million a year to really function, it is unlikely any one donor could have saved the house. The USA will only have real access to opera when it joins the rest of the developed world and creates an effective public funding system. That’s a pill too big for Americans to swallow, but it’s the truth.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Well, I was told that some 60,000 people attended free performances by the Met in Central Park, so obviously there’s no lack of demand for opera in New York. Perhaps this potential yet deprived audience should let the New York City Council ( know that there’s an overwhelming desire for effective public funding of a full-time opera company in New York with affordable ticket prices and that nothing at all is preventing the city from doing so if it wants to. Start writing, folks!

    • “It is certainly not true that I was expected to save City Opera. General-Manager George Steel asked me to lunch simply to see if I might be able to help the opera. No financial figure was put on the table, but he did say that City Opera needed $7 million to stay afloat by September. Mr. Osborne’s figure of $60 million is wrong. The correct figure ranged between $12-$30 million, depending on the number of operas staged during the season, which again ranged between four and twelve.
      Mr. Osborne’s comments about the lack of public funding for the arts in the US is spot-on correct. Unfortunately, there is no chance that this will ever happen. Way back when, the
      “powers-to-be” decided that the classical performing arts should be privately funded. PERIOD!
      Alberto Vilar

      • The 60 million dollar figure I mentioned wasn’t in reference to the average NYCO budgets of the past, but to the average budgets used by mid-range houses in Europe — a budget the NYCO would need to really do its job. Gerard Morteir, for example, was promised around 60 million and resigned when it wasn’t available. On the other hand, as Mr. Vilar notes, even 20 million per year could have kept the house going relative to past seasons, even if that meant a limitation on its activities.

        The average budgets for Europe’s big houses like the Vienna State Opera, La Scala, and the Munich State Opera are around 150 million per year for 12 month seasons. The Met spends 300 million per year for a seven month season. By European standards, the Met’s budget could fund two world class houses with 12 month seasons. Instead, New York City has now entirely lost its second house. Must the Met be so lavish? Wouldn’t two houses, with at least one offering affordable tickets for decent seats be a better option?

        Paris, Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Moscow, and London all have two or more full time opera companies each in dedicated houses.. The NYCO never had a house. The David H. Koch Theater (as it came to be called) was not an opera house, and very poorly suited to the genre.

        It is very unlikely these problems will be solved without an effective public funding system like all other developed countries have long had.

      • It is true that moving the USA toward a public funding system for the arts will be a difficult and long task, but it is not impossible. America is capable of change, especially when it becomes apparent that change is needed. Who would have thought, for example, that we would one day have a black President? With the problems so many arts institutions are facing, it seems like we are reaching a tipping point where people are beginning to realize that change is needed. These are the people that should be our focus for leading these changes:

        1. Artists

        2. Arts Educators

        3. Arts Administrators

        4. Arts Journalists

        5. Arts Board Members

        6. Politicians

        From there, movement could be made to create a transformation in the perspectives of the general public about public arts funding.

      • Greg Hlatky says:

        Who ever are these “powers that be” that made the decision? The city council? The Bilderberg Group? Mrs. Astor’s 400? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • I will rain on your parade by disputing that Vilar never stole any money. He owed me, and lost in Abitration, well over $2 million that he owed and never paid. [redacted: abuse]

    • J Burke says:

      Bravo!! The truth is finally spoken. You are not the only on he has deceived and stolen from. He stole from his sister, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, her retirement, his cousins, an aunt. The list goes on. Bravo, again!

      • Thank you for your comment. I could go on but to what purpose? The recipients of his “largesse” might always find him a good guy and excuse the inexcusable. He kept on with his gift giving even when there was no possibility of following through with a check. He might have given me some credit by insisting that the name of some venues he helped fund be called Vilar-Christov! He was never one to recognize others who were assisting him in getting rich. Getting his name out there was more important than being grateful to those who helped him.