Just in: Helga Schmidt is ousted in Valencia

Just in: Helga Schmidt is ousted in Valencia


norman lebrecht

July 29, 2014

First Zubin Mehta quit over budget cuts. Now the veteran Austrian artistic director of the Palau de les Arts de Valencia is on her way. The dream is over.





  • Carmen says:

    I know a lot about what has gone on in Valencia and it isn’t anything to be proud about. Helga Schmidt was grossly overpaid, abused her position and depleted the funds of the Palau de les Arts de Valencia, having demanded drivers, chefs, hotel suits, etc. It all had to come to an end at some point. Let this be a lesson for all that if the world of opera and classical music is to survive, then it has to stop arrogant executives from running these public institutions like their personal kingdoms and believing that they themselves are kings and queens. It’s over and with good reason! The city administrators are to blame for having accepted the outlandish demands and exorbitant payouts of these people, Mehta included. We should be happy that this era of decadence and corruption has, at least, been recognised for what it is.

  • Micaela says:

    I disagree. I also am fairly knowledgeable about the Valencia situation and I believe that Helga Schmidt was a victim, a scapegoat for inept local politicians, who have made a big mess of the Palau.

    Helga Schmidt endured pay cuts willingly (her salary was cut drastically several yrs. ago), she was slapped with petty legal accusations from subordinates, her power to make economic decisions was rescinded about a year ago, she was slammed again & again in the local press, who were desperately searching for a scapegoat for the disaster that is now the Palau. She stayed in her job despite draconian cuts which left a budget barely able to pay the salaries of tenured employees, with nothing left at all to produce new operas.

    Throughout this ordeal, she stayed true to her word that she would not let the cuts affect her orchestra. No musician has been fired from that orch. nor have they had pay cuts. She kept her word.

    Helga Schmidt had a distinguished career before her late-in-life Spanish adventure. She is responsible for bringing in Maazel, Mehta to Les Arts. She has an impeccable professional track record prior to Valencia. You certainly can’t say that about the local Spanish politicians who are calling the shots at the Palau.

    She’s endured more than any opera manager has had to endure. She’s been a noble and brave leader & it’s perfectly understandable that she is, as the article mentions “tired” of fighting the beaurocracy, the budget cuts, and eager to negotiate out her contract to leave.

    Helga Schmidt is not an isolated case in Spain. Spaniards are eager to internationalize themselves in business and the arts but when the going gets tough, the spectre of Franco emerges and the blame often falls on foreigners. Granted, Gerard Mortier was not an easy
    case, but Teatro Real has many difficulties which were none of his doing. Yet the blame fell
    squarely on his shoulders. Ditto Ms. Schmidt at the Palau. These are (were) both world-class opera empresarios. Spain’s opera tradition historically is not particularly noteworthy. Yet Spanish politicians have felt qualified to judge the merit of both Mortier and Schmidt.

    The prominent UK architect Norman Foster, like Schmidt and Mortier, is another victim of
    Spanish political bureaucracy, demonstrating that despite their desire to internationalize Spain, Spanish politicians are completely incapable of doing so. Foster spent millions in Madrid with the intent of relocating his offices there. He came up against so much opposition from local politicians that he scrapped the project & pulled out of Madrid. That’s pretty much what Helga Schmidt is doing here – she’s scrapping the project and pulling out of Valencia. You can hardly blame her. . . .

  • Charlie says:

    Dear Micaela

    Sorry, but you are wrong.

    Carmen is completely right in all she says about Schmidt.

    I have personally worked in this theater for two months in a principal role and I also know all the big stars who have over the years done the same too and the mishandling of Schmidt’s management is the main reason why the theatre has declined like it has. I don’t think there is one important artist who has a good word to say about her unless they have been fed many millions like she did to Mehta. That said I don’t think this is Mehta’s fault at all. I am sure he has no complaints from Schmidt because she knew how to behave correctly with only three artists – Maazel (RIP), Mehta and Domingo and perhaps a few others on occasion.

    It’s the best kept secret within the profession – Schmidt’s incompetence as an Artistic Director/Intendant and the arrogance and negligence most artists have suffered from her, including very big names.

    Did you know she has never lived in Valencia throughout all her time on the job? She has always stayed in a small three star hotel and has certainly not spent more time in Valencia than in her main place of residence which is outside Spain. Tell me which serious opera intendant does that?

    What Schmidt has done very well is ensure that no artist speaks badly about her management disasters, because in every contract that all artists have signed to perform in Les Arts there is clause prohibiting them from making public any details of their engagement during and after. That is why everybody is so silent and why Schimdt has been allowed to continue this image of “poor old Helga”.

    Les Arts is where it is mainly because of her, pure and simple.

    • Micaela says:

      Charlie, it’s a sweeping generalization to blame Schmidt for all of Les Arts’ woes. I’m sure there’s truth in what you say, but what opera manager in the world could successfully go up against that pack of prideful Valencians who wanted an opera house of international repute, paid for by Madrid, bringing glory to their city & citizenry?

      Valencians are a notoriously insular and clannish tribe in Spain’s classical music scene. They are not better than everyone else but they will band together and convince themselves that they are. This is how they behave in most every orchestra in Spain and apparently this is how they’ve behaved in the administration of Les Arts.

      Valencians hijacked the orchestra selection process, to give preference to their own. It’s a scandal which is discussed to this day. Foreigners who succeeded in winning positions were often made to feel unwelcome, as Hornguy notes below. Very common Valencian strategy.

      There was a huge fuss about the name of the orchestra, with Valencians insisting that it be changed to reflect the “Comunidad de Valencia”. They wanted a Valencian architect, Santiago Calatrava. We all know how that turned out. Charlie, perhaps you’ve forgotten how much Calatrava’s involvement has cost Les Arts.

      Valencians wanted a governing voice, apparently, in the artistic and administrative aspects of Les Arts, ultimately over-riding Helga Schmidt’s authority altogether. They cut her salary by enormous proportions. How could any self-respecting opera intendant do their job under such circumstances?

      As far as artist relations & management abilities, every opera manager has critics, skeletons in the closet. Just look at Peter Gelb or Gerard Mortier. It comes with the job. I’m not familiar with residence requirements of being an opera manager, but many well-known Music Directors come to mind who hold major positions and reside elsewhere. Seiji Ozawa in Boston was a perfect example. And if Schmidt was staying at a “small 3 star hotel” it doesn’t sound like her lifestyle was particularly extravagant at all!

      I’m not saying Helga Schmidt was the ideal manager, but I believe that she was up against a nearly impossible situation. Now the Valencians can have their way, and have an entirely Valencian operation and as Zubin Mehta predicted in his final press conference on this subject, the Palau will become a small regional opera house.

  • Hornguy says:

    I played horn at the Palau for its first year, and then left to come back to the U.S. That this was a poorly managed affair was fairly clear from the get go, right from the time they needed to be sending employment contracts and facilitating work permits for guest workers.

    Sure, things on stage were fine enough – the music making was a refuge of sorts from the shoddy, incompetent bureaucracy – and I have some lovely memories of great performances with wonderful colleagues. Those who have stayed deserve much better than what they’ve gotten.

    From my own observations and from those of friends who remained, I would concede many of Micaela’s points and ultimately argue that it’s hard to judge Schmidt’s performance because so much of what could’ve been accomplished was obviously constrained by the assorted political battles within the provincial government. Between Schmidt, and Maestros Maazel and Mehta, combined with arguably the most musical potential of any orchestra in Spain (we were certainly better paid than most, that’s for sure), all the pieces were there for success. And then the recession hit, and Spain’s economy went in the tank, and suddenly the Palau became an even bigger point of political contention.

    As an American, I was treated with nothing but warmth and geniality from my Spanish and Valencian colleagues. However, it was very easy to pick up on an air of resentment from many in the community that Maazel had imported so many foreigners to play in the orchestra. Well, yes, because as much as Spanish pride won’t acknowledge it, they don’t do a very good job of producing orchestral talent compared to the rest of the world, especially in the string sections. In any case, that was not always a comfortable position to be in. I recall a particularly awkward performance in our first weeks there that we shared with the Orquestra de Valencia that felt mighty chilly, only to find out later that the chairs many of us were sitting in at the Palau were chairs that those musicians had auditioned for.

    The fact remains that there are those in Valencia who always had an axe to grind because they believe that local is better and they wanted to believe that this could and should be an endeavor for Valencians and by Valencians. And it would seem, from some of their talks over who should be their new music director, that crowd might finally get their wish. They have a $200 million hall that’s been falling apart practically since it was “finished”. Was it ever really finished? Even when the flood was wiping out the mechanicals and the basement level, the upstairs hall was in shambles and the open restaurant/reception area at the west end of the building was incomplete.

    There are positions in the orchestra that have sat vacant for years without auditions – my chair, for instance, still hasn’t been filled seven years later. Valencians had an opportunity to do something truly grand on the world stage and instead have frittered it all away and appear destined to be a regional opera company that specializes in zarzuela and can hold whole festivals devoted to the works of Martín y Soler, telling themselves how much better it is that way.

    Oh, what could have been…

  • Nick says:

    I loved the Valencia Ring. I was amazed that such a standard could be achieved in such a short space of time. Clearly Frau Schmidt had much to do with that.

    Looking at her biography on the Valencia site (which she must either have drafted or approved), however, I am surprised at some major discrepancies and wonder why an administrator who was so immersed in detail should have included what she must have known to be wrong. For example:

    1. She “moved to London, where she was the artistic director of Covent Garden during the 1970s . . . the first woman to hold a post that had been only held by men.” Schmidt started as Head of Opera Planning the the Royal Opera, a post previously held by another woman, Joan Ingpen! That title was later changed in accordance with international norms to Artistic Administrator – but still a very different post from that of Artistic Director.

    2. She claims that thanks to her the following artists made their important “debut” at the ROH – Sutherland, Pavarotti, Domingo, Nilsson, Caballe, Raimondi and Aragall. The fact is that all made their debuts prior to Frau Schmidt’s appointment! Indeed, of the eight singers listed, only Carreras made his debut thereafter.

    Why would anyone as distinguished as Frau Schmidt make such obvious errors in a formal biography?

  • Rob van der Hilst says:

    Hopely the rest of the by Herbert von Karajan wordlwidely introduced culture of overpaying, decadence and corruption will be wiped out too. These f*cking idiots.

  • Guus Mostart says:

    Oh for heaven’s sake, the woman is 74 and should have retired a good ten years ago. Blame the Valencia city council for appointing her in the first place. No doubt she has a lot of gardening to keep her occupied.

  • Maria says:

    Helga Schmidt didn´t give most of the artists a contract with her signature before the third performance! They all were worried for weeks, if they get the contract at all and will be paid. This is no way and no stile! She treated artists in a humiliating way, created an atmosphere of fear and anxiety, was completely unpredictable and had a very strange behavior. In my opinion it is not so difficult to create beautiful performances when you can spend millions to even overpay names like Maazel, Mehta, Domingo, Barenboim, Jonas Kaufmann, Garanca… and other most famous operasingers to appear at the Palau during one week only! These people only do their work and you can expect something exceptional from artists who get so much money. There is no reason to think that this has to do so much with an exceptional work that came from Helga Schmidt! A merit is when someone is able to make something special with few money.

  • Maria says:

    There also were a lot of expensive parties and catering at the Palau and at expensive restaurants. Nice for the guests who were invited in masses but completely unnecessary and it is obvious that these kind of operadirectors and their star artists carry a great responsibility that theatres are run out of money. They are the ruin for the art.