Spanish human rights abuse: Let Helga Schmidt go

Spanish human rights abuse: Let Helga Schmidt go


norman lebrecht

June 16, 2015

The elderly former artistic director of the Palau de les Arts in Valencia was arrested at dawn in January on suspicion of misuse of public funds. She was not charged with any offence but her passport was confiscated and she cannot leave the country. She is further obliged to report to a police station twice a month.

The investigating judge has gone on sick leave and there is no sign when Helga’s torment might end.

Helga is in her 70s and in need of medical attention. Her salary was stopped in January and she is living in a hotel, at her own expense. Placido Domingo and Zubin Mehta have issued statements proclaiming her complete innocence on these politically motivated charges. We publish below an open letter by Helga, clarifying her position.

In the interests of natural justice and human rights, we appeal to the Spanish authorities to give Helga Schmidt back her passport and allow her to return home to Vienna, where she can recover her health in peace and quiet. To detain her any longer through a hot Valencia summer is no less than an abuse of process – the sadistic torture of a sick lady who has done no harm and deserves a great deal more respect than Spain has seen fit to show her.

Spain: Let Helga Schmidt go.




Open letter from Helga Schmidt

In response to the many different versions circulating about the events of January 20th I would like to set the matter straight. I have not done so until now because I was trying to shed some more light on the situation and reorganising practical aspects of my life after 15 years of work, and finally, dealing with health problems (a part of my life which I would honestly rather have preferred to keep private). But I would like to make it known that I am doing my utmost to demonstrate to the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, the people of Valencia and the whole world who follow events within the world of art and culture, that the accusations that have been levelled at me are absolutely baseless.

Obviously sad and bewildered by the spectacle of this defamatory campaign, I nevertheless wish to thank the judges and the police who participated in the search. They behaved courteously towards me and immediately understood the situation and the person they were facing. I must also say that I cooperated fully and unconditionally with the Spanish judiciary and that on the same night of January 20th I was released pending trial. I look forward to the day when I can explain and defend myself in the context of a police interrogation, even though my advocate has confirmed me already that in the requisitioned documentation the Police did not find anything that the Generalitat and its control bodies did not know already before the search.

There was also no reason for me to resign and my dismissal from the post of Intendant and Artistic Director of the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía was not carried out according to current legislation, but rather in compliance with code of ethics adopted solely for regional political posts of free designation.

Today, as I already said, I am working to show as quickly as possible that from the beginning of my term as Intendant I have put (as I always have throughout my long and respectable career) all my love, passion and experience as well as my professional artistic and economical accuracy and transparency, to serving the emerging Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía. This economical accuracy can easily be proven with all the documents that I always signed jointly with the successive administrators. For 15 years I worked day and night to achieve the very best for the theatre of which I was the Intendant, giving up any thoughts of a private life. Despite its short life, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía inaugurated on October 8th 2005 with symphonic concerts conducted by Lorin Maazel and Zubin Mehta, who also inaugurated the first season on October 25th 2006 with Fidelio, has become of one of the most important theatres in the world and this is evident for all to see.

Such outstanding conductors as Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, Riccardo Chailly, Georges Prêtre, Valery Gergiev, Vladimir Jurowski and many others as Plácido Domingo who above all as singer, have appeared in my seasons all these years at the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía and have always returned with pleasure, expressing their joy at working in such an environment, an ‘’happy island of art‘’ to work in, not just in Spain but throughout the world.

This year the season is stunning too: even with the budget cuts in recent years I have managed to maintain the highest quality and I am very proud of this. I would have liked to see personally the results of my work together with the staff of my theatre but I have been prevented from doing so: the maliciousness and pettiness of some people have prevailed and they succeeded in having me dismissed. However, I must say that they will never destroy my reputation and the extraordinary concept of theatre that I have created in our Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía.

And finally I would like to thank all the artists, theatre general managers, mass media -national and international-, and the audience itself, for all their support and solidarity they have demonstrated to me during this difficult period.


  • Olassus says:

    Why doesn’t she write to Sofía, the homophobic ex-queen — wife of an elephant killer, mother to a royal embezzler — who has wanted and placed her name on every arts complex in Spain, including the one Frau Schmidt allegedly robbed?

    Maybe Sofía could actually *do* something.

  • Spain piano says:

    I´m sorry but I cannot cry. Helga Schmidt represents the musical version of corruption in the Valencian community. She is well knows for accepting gifts in exchange of concerts for friends and managers of friends. We do not need any more corrupts in my country, so I agree with the post that she should get her passport back and other that responding to Justice she should not get back to Spain ever again.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Your proof that she accepted gifts? If you have none, do not make wild allegations. Internal audits found that she saved the centre a great deal of money.

  • Guillermo says:

    Mr Lebrecht

    As I posted months ago the only reason why others do not speak out with proof is because every contract that artists and others signed with Schmidt’s Palau de les arts contained a confidentiality clause which places us in a difficult position.

    I personally participated in a production where the stage director was not to be seen until a week before the premiere which meant going back to square one after weeks of pointless rehearsal time. Surely that is wasting money rather than saving it.

    Certainly Schmidt was not to be seen until a few days before that premiere and was absent for at least four weeks during my time there. When one asked about her the answer was always “she lives in Italy and sometimes comes over”. She must have been working day and night from Italy then, no need to be present in a theatre – that must be the new “extraordinary concept of theatre I have created in our Palau de les Arts” that many of us are still trying to understand and which of course has nothing to do with the present state of the theatre.

    Please tell me which leading opera house would allow for such shambles.

    Now she cannot leave the country she is probably living in the same hotel she used to live in when she had a job in Valencia. Interesting how it comes round that she is finally doing the time in Valencia she should have done whilst she was Artistic Director.

    And I am not surprised Mehta & Co come out in her defence after the millions they have made during her rein.

    Her open letter appeals again to those who do not know about the business, like she has done since the beginning of her tenure and which is easy to do in Spain. What is so great about the present season of the Palau de les Arts? Where are all the big names that she could attract? Where is the great orchestra that she assembled? It all went away because Schmidt can only produce results with money, without it she cannot produce anything of substance because she never sought to build a theatre but to buy names.

    I feel no sympathy to her, I hope that through her present ordeal she will remember the same treatment she afforded her staff and artists by keeping them waiting until the early hours before she deemed it suitable to see them with an arrogance that made Ioan Holender look like a puppy. Her inhumane treatment of those around her is a testament that karma does exist.

    Her reputation is indeed destroyed. She knows it and that is why she is appealing to all and sundry to save her.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      The substance of your comments is compromised by anonymity. If you want to attack a sick and elderly person, do have the courage to use your own name.

      • V.Lind says:

        The confidentiality clause may affect self-identification. His post, however, is thoughtful, thorough, and specific. And it lines up with other reports regarding Schmidt that have been circulating for some time, generally unchallenged. (Classicalité for one).

    • Frank says:

      100% agree with Guillermo´s comment. And it seems he still stopped himself of saying much more details of that hell that was created there by her… 🙂

      I´ve been working in that house from the beginning in 2006 as musician and have witnessed too much.

      It was a dream project with the best orchestra and musical director Lorin Maazel and she did everything to destroy everything and waste millions.

    • Olassus says:

      Much of what you are saying here rings true.

  • Simon S. says:

    The law should be equal for everyone. Being in one’s 70s is no excuse.

    Valencia certainly is one of Spain’s corruption hot spots. Though I certainly do not know whether she herself is guilty of a criminal ofence, I would call for letting the investigators do their work. Spain’s criminal justice fortunately enjoys a high degree of autonomy.

  • Anon says:

    Helga Schmidt is a scape goat. She is not the beginning nor is she the end of Les Arts’ financial and managerial problems. They just appointed David Livermor to succeed her and there are already problems with his contract, his income from Les Arts.

    Spaniards love trouncing people who they feel hold power. It’s a throwback to the Spanish Inquisition. It makes them feel rightious. This year alone Spanish courts put popular singer Isabel Pantoja behind bars and are doing their best to put Monserrat Caballe there too. It’s especially interesting and egalitarian to them if the person they are
    trouncing is a woman of a certain age.

    The problem with Mrs. Schmidt’s case is she is not the sum of the problems at Les Arts. Not by a long shot. They used her as a scape goat and they STILL have problems out the wazoo.

    This kind of stuff happens a lot in Spain, but it doesn’t make the news outside of the country. But one case that did was Gerard Mortier. What a coincidence that Spaniards
    also tarred and feathered him. Except he, also, was very ill, and he died before they could finish the job.

    Look, I have been following the Schmidt case for a while. She doesn’t deserve this. Spaniards, esp. Valencians are REALLY good at inventing stuff and turning a mob against someone, They do it in orchestras, too. Valencians have shown their true colors publicly here. Humiliating and holding an elderly and ill lady prisoner. Yep. That’s the Valencian way.

  • Has been says:

    Helga should be charged or released. That she is high handed, rude and had bizarre work habits is indisputable but that does not constitute illegality.

    • Hellen Burns says:

      She is under investigation for a serious financial crime and she can’t leave the country. That easy. Would you say the same about the string quartet member who is currently not allowed to leave the US while he is under investigation?

  • Albert Garnier says:

    She is being investigated for some serious crimes related to the use of public funds. She is not allowed the country, as she would not be in the UK or the US. Saying that it is a human rights abuse is just a manipulation. I do not care if God himself writes a letter, she is where she has to be while Justice works its course.

    • V.Lind says:

      I have read that she is staying in a glossy hotel in a room costing €2000 a night, which is where she stayed at the expense of the company when in post. I daresay there are other places to stay in Valencia that cost less, but it sounds as if she made enough to afford the luxury to which she had become accustomed. Hardly human rights abusive, it sounds. As for her health, there will be good medical help available to her, surely.

      • Hellen Burns says:

        Lived in Spain (Madrid and Bilbao between 2005 and 2008) and the public health system in Spain is terrific. She will be fine.

  • Simon S. says:

    By the way, Norman, did you also claim human rights abuse in the case of the German violinist in NYC? If not, why not?

  • Boris Kupesic says:


    As someone who worked there from 2006-2009 and witnessed quite a bit of absolutely nasty disgusting behaviour, she was a reprehensible human being with little to no respect for the musicians or the staff. The management was beyond inept, corrupt, absolutely not qualified to run an opera house and that’s a kind critique. In cases such as this of fraud, bribes, abuse of power she is a flight risk, so it is standard that she surrender her passport to the authorities. There is socialized health care in Spain, the weather is definitely not bad in the summer and complaining the fact that she has to pay out of her deep pockets for a hotel is nothing more than entitled sensationalist pap on your part. She is accused of wrong doing and needs to answer for it.

    Keep it objective and keep it strictly to the facts, or go write for the Mirror or Daily Star.

    Spain, keep her there, give her legal due process and move on.

  • Maria Dolores says:

    As a former employee I can attest to the incredibly abusive, sadistic, irresponsible, andunprofessional qualities that Doña Helga possesses among other personality disorders including narcissism and megalomania. Her illegal activities will finally be brought to light in a court of law. You can´t call somebody a scapegoat when they were pegged for the job before the theatre was even built and who controlled absolutely EVERYTHING that happened in that theatre. Nothing went unnoticed by her and her signature is on everything.
    To see her crying “Pobre de mi” to people like you, Mr. Lebrecht, just goes to show how well she can manipulate people. The only thing she cares about is her image. She has brought this upon herself and ought to take full responsibility for her actions. NOBODY who worked for her there believes in her innocence. We all know better and you might try vetting your candidate before sticking your neck out for her. Her health issues did not keep her from running the theatre with an iron fist for the last 15 years, why should her health be a problem now that she has nothing to do but enjoy her luxury suite and visit the police twice a month? Why don´t you try defending some real political prisoners like the ones in Cuba or China? “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”

  • Alex says:

    When is Santiago Calatrava going to be prosecuted or placed in jail for, wasting public money, fraud, nepotism, or faulty engineering?

  • rita says:

    There are updates on the police invesigation yesterday and today….any comments?