Helga Schmidt is free. Her arrest is a scandal.

Helga Schmidt is free. Her arrest is a scandal.


norman lebrecht

January 21, 2015

The artistic director of the Palau de les Arts in Valencia has been set free on police bail.

Her passport has been confiscated and she will be called in for further questioning.

Helga Schmidt and her predecessor, Ernesto Moreno, are being investigated for misappropriation of funds at the art centre since it opened in 2005.

The  judge is a prominent anti-corruption investigator.

So far, so legal and fit and proper.

But was it necessary to arrest a woman in her 70s at her hotel*, drive her to her workplace for five hours of evidence gathering and then subject her to daylong police interrogation?

The woman is artistic director of an opera house. She is an expert in casting operas, no more, no less. The money that passed through her hands was trivial compared to, say, anyone handling government defence or utility contracts. In a long career, she has never previously been accused of financial malfeasance.

The investigator in Valencia has taken a hammer to crack a peanut. It is possible that Helga’s human rights were breached. Without prejudicing the case in any way, one has to ask: was this an appropriate way to treat a lady of advanced years and impeccable character who has devoted her life to the arts and brought Valencia more opera than it has ever known?


*correction to earlier post


  • Simon S. says:

    The law is (or should be) equal for everybody. Someone’s merits for the arts should not be relevant in a criminal investigation.

    And considering the possible violations of her human rights? Norman, would you be so kind and specify which specific right(s) you are referring to? Free speech? Don’t think so. Fair trial? No indication for any violation, AFAICS. SO?

    And, by the way, I am very sure that every day people face a much more rigorous treatment by Spanish (and British, German, Austrian etc.) police than Ms. Schmidt. Just ask your favourite refugee support organization for details.

  • Simon T says:

    Sorry but why should her age mean that she gets an easier ride than anyone else facing such an investigation into potential criminal wrongdoing. The justice system must be blind to such matters and collect the evidence in the most appropriate way it can to get to the truth.

    If you are investigating such matters, the element of surprise is vital so that evidence can be collected before it is destroyed.

    No doubt it was uncomfortable and distressing for her – and should she be cleared of any wrongdoing, she can seek redress. But the investigation has to be carried out – no matter her age or apparent previous good character.

  • Marcello says:

    I understand your point Mr. Lebrecht, but let’s please not get confused here: She has just been imputed by the district attorney….

  • Marcello says:

    And talking of “impeccable character”: she has been denounced by several secretaries of hers at the opera for working bullying.

  • DLowe says:

    Yes and no. I don’t think it was right for someone of her age to be arrested at such a time. The rest, well, as someone said, she can’t be treated too much differently than anyone else that is arrested.

  • Guillermo says:

    I completely agree with all the comments made here.

    After working in the palau and witnessing the arrogant and high-handed manner schmidt treated not only her employees but many artists I can only say that she is getting what she deserves. I remember of at least three times employees had to stay with her at the Palau until over 2am because of her work habits…..No “fabulous” words or overinflated biographies are going to save her now.

    Sadly, the scandal is that this woman has been allowed to spend significant tax payers money without actually building anything that will remain for posterity but rather for her own ego and the egos of the few whose bank accounts have benefited as a consequence.

    Perhaps karma exists after all.

    • Lorna A says:

      I think she certainly did build a wonderful artistic reputation for Valencian opera.
      It was a great achievement for which anyone with a serious interest in music will applaud
      I believe you have answered the question yourself about the reason why she should have been treated with more compassion It is the fact that she is being judged here on this page . Helga is innocent until proven guilty!!

      She is not Spanish so I am not sure that the criticism of her from junior staff is so unexpected .Her work ethic was different. Yes it is said she worked long hours even while receiving treatment for cancer .
      It is unlikely she would have had the results she had by being lackadaisical!!
      HS had a long career and it does seem strange that these sort of rumours are surfacing now .
      It is clear to anyone who knows the Spanish political climate that the closing of the Valencian radio station was a big issue for the left wing and the nationalist. Therein lies some of the explanation for this furor as elections approach !!
      I wonder who will take on this poison chalice after Helga Schmidt ?. I fear no one !!
      The opera house was grossly underfunded compared to opera houses in Barcelona and Madrid. However it’s artistic achievements were considerable On his departure Mehta made this clear to all
      By the way I have met many employees of the Opera house who had great respect for Helga Schmidt > Interesting!!

  • Neil van der Linden says:

    A crook is a crook by any other name. If she is a crook she should be treated as such. There are more nice old people who turn out to be crooks. However if she is a crook, I am sure she is not the only one involved in this case.
    And what I read from somewhere is that she is not always the nice old lady. Which is not a good qualification for opera manager. But bullying…

  • Marc says:

    With regard to Helga Schmidt’s character, just contact some of the musicians in what is left of the house orchestra.

  • Anon says:

    On a previous thread I commented that a police intervention in this situation was inappropriate and over the top. From my lips to the ears of a top Valencian government official who said exactly the same in a press release today.

    “This morning, the president of the Generalitat (of Valencia), Alberto Fabra, announced that the police intervention at the Palau de les Arts was “unecessary”, “uncalled for” and
    “out of proportion” to the situation at hand. Furthermore, he added, it has marred the image of the Valencian Community.”


    Exactly. This is precisely what I wrote on a previous thread on this subject yesterday. The whole situation was badly handled by authorities.

  • La di da says:

    oh, my heart is broken!!!

  • Terence says:

    Are corrupt politicians and government officials being treated the same way?

    If so then justice is being applied equally.

    But if not, then I am sure you can draw your own conclusions.

    Even if one person is guilty of a crime, it is not justice when x number of others are ignored for reasons of politics or influence.

    I have no idea if Ms Schmidt was a bully, but that is not what she has been charged with.

    Innocent until proven guilty in Spain?

  • locatelli says:

    [Redacted] In the past two years, under the ms. Schmidt’s management the orchestra lost half of its members to the point it can no longer perform major works!
    Musicians are panicking and looking elsewhere for jobs! Also she refused to communicate with the orchestra! She repeatedly refused to have concerts such as Bartok’s Blue Beard performed more than once! It is obvious she has no idea of music! As it turns out she was embezzling money from the orchestra budget! No wonder! As a subscriber to this publication I would like to know what compelled Mr. Lebrecht to stage such an aggressive defense for Frau Schmidt without checking the facts! Her age? Her looks? What a shame!

  • Jennifer Wilson says:

    I am in shock. What a mean-spirited and terrible way to treat a woman whose only interest was in turning the new theatre on the Med into an operatic powerhouse. I am sure she will be cleared of all charges, and I pray that the prosecutors do not kill her in their enthusiasm.