Helga Schmidt has been suspended as general director of the Palau de les Arts in Valencia, Spain, amid reports of financial irregularities. The Spanish news agency says there have been two arrests. One is said to be a past director, Ernesto Moreno.
Helga Schmidt has built a reputation on hiring expensive artists at presumably cut-price rates. She was due to retire in 2016.
UPDATE: The latest reports say Helga has been arrested.
Her official biography:
Helga Schmidt (Vienna, 1941) has been one of the most influential public figures in the world of music over the past fifty years. Born into an environment with deep roots in music -her father was Studienleiter of Wilhelm Furtwängler and she grew up immersed in the musical environment of Vienna during the second half of the 20th century-, her comprehensive musical training began when she was just a child. She studied piano in Vienna and then went on to study History of Art at the Sorbonne in Paris.
Thanks to her father, she regularly came into contact with public figures such as Karl Böhm, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Clemens Krauss or even Furtwängler himself, in addition to other great singers who frequented the Vienna Opera House at that time. Later, she came into contact and worked with maestros such as Georg Solti or Carlos Kleiber.
Her professional career began as assistant to the general director of the Vienna Festival, Egon Hilbert, when she was only 21 years of age. In 1962, she actively participated in the staging of Lulu by Alban Berg, and conducted by Karl Böhm. These were the first performances of the Berg opera during the postwar period. Together with Karl Böhm she also promoted a new staging of Daphne by Richard Strauss, with Fritz Wunderlich as the lead.
Two years later, in 1963, Hilbert was appointed manager of the Vienna Opera House, and Herbert von Karajan was artistic and musical director. Both men took on Helga Schmidt to work for this opera house where she continued to work side by side with Karajan for ten years. “I owe my career to him”, recalls Schmidt, adding: “It was Karajan who advised me to go into artistic management, beginning from the bottom and getting to know the nooks and crannies of the theatre. He was a very demanding man, most profound and a restorer. For him, the top priority of the opera was the music and the stage was simply limited to accompany it. He was very meticulous and he supervised absolutely everything. And, in this sense, I have followed closely in his footsteps”. A strong supporter of the best Italian singers, her wholehearted support helped imperial artists such as Giulietta Simionato, Mirella Freni, Alfredo Kraus, Franco Corelli, Giuseppe di Stefano, Boris Christoff, Cesare Siepi, Tito Gobbi, Piero Cappuccilli and even her own husband the baritone singer Wladimiro Ganzarolli, to triumph in Vienna. She was also responsible for the performances of two universal dancers, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, at the Vienna Opera House.
From Vienna she moved to London, where she was the artistic director of Covent Garden during the 1970s. She was only 33 years old and was the first woman to hold a post that had been only held by men. Together with Colin Davis, she was in charge of one of the most outstanding periods of the London theatre. Thanks to Helga Schmidt, the Royal Opera House witnessed the debut of conductors such as Karl Böhm, Riccardo Chailly, Christoph von Dohnányi, Bernard Haitink, Carlos Kleiber, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Seiji Ozawa and Georges Prêtre, in addition to the debut of the singers Jaume Aragall, Montserrat Caballé, José Carreras, Plácido Domingo, Birgit Nilsson, Luciano Pavarotti, Ruggero Raimondi and Joan Sutherland, to name just a few. She also promoted countless recordings on vinyl that have now become an indispensable reference for the world of records. Amongst these is the famous recording of Tosca in 1976, conducted by Colin Davis and with Caballé, Carreras and Wixell in the leading roles.
The artistic adviser for countless institutions and orchestras of high standing (including the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam and the Royal Symphony Orchestra of London), towards the end of the 1990s, Helga Schmidt was fascinated by the ambitious project that was being developed by the Generalitat Valenciana (the regional government) and the architect Santiago Calatrava. Their idea was to open an opera house in Valencia. The avant-garde architecture of the new building and the wholehearted support of the regional government persuaded her to become directly involved in the project.
And since the year 2000, she has worked full-time on this project. The opera house was inaugurated in 2005 as the “Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía”, and over the past seven years Helga Schmidt has succeeded in placing this new musical centre up amongst the best and most reputable on the international scene. It has been the latest achievement of this exemplary manageress who, in her non-existent free time, dreams of rereading Rilke, Goethe or Baltasar Gracián, “who was such a great influence on Schopenhauer”. She also dreams of living with her two dogs in her country house in Piedmont and sailing alone “upon a blue sea of infinite horizons with just the indelible memory of my husband Wladimiro for company”. In June 2012, the president of Austria awarded her the Cross of Honour for Science and Art, First Class, the highest award that can be obtained in the Republic of Austria.