Exclusive: Opera’s greatest donor has died in disgrace

Exclusive: Opera’s greatest donor has died in disgrace


norman lebrecht

September 04, 2021

The Cuban-American tech investor Alberto Vilar, a benefactor who gave more to major opera houses than any other fan, has been found dead at his apartment in Queens, New York, according to a friend who informed slippedisc.com.

Vilar, who was 80,was released from prison in 2018 after service ten years for financial fraud. The prosecution said he stole $21 million from investors in his company, Amerindo.

His court-supervised probation order was due to end on September 15. He has been living lately on the dole, sleeping in a friend’s livingroom.

Vilar is survived by his sister Carol Williams of Connecticut. Twice divorced, he had no children.

It is estimated that gave more than $200 million to the Met, Salzburg, Covent Garden, Mariinsky and other venues, enabling them to install seatback surtitles. As soon as he was convicted, they all took down his name.

With his assets frozen, Vilar appealed to artists he had helped for loans to pay his legal fees. Of all his fair-weather artist friends, only Valery Gergiev responded, giving him $500,000 that he never expected to see back.


Alberto Vilar, private photo, July 2021

Here’s a report from his golden days.

UPDATE: What the obituaries don’t say


  • Tiredofitall says:

    To categorize people as fair-weather friends is to ignore Alberto Villar’s bizarre and illegal behavior for many years. $200 million may reflect pledges, but the amount actually received by organizations (which made plans and spent anticipated cash) was barely half that amount, if even.

    Alberto was very sick man, despite his love of music. May he rest in peace, but he alone tarnished his legacy.

  • sam says:

    1) “…according to a friend…” Some friend, providing you a private photo of him and details of his lamentable last days.

    2) “As soon as he was convicted, they all took down his name.” But kept all the money.

    • James Weiss says:

      The money he “gave” – most of which was never received by the MET – was mostly stolen from his own clients. His heart may have been in the right place but what he did was wrong. He was justly punished for it.

  • Sigmund says:

    Yet somehow he seems like less of a villain than James Levine, money being fungible, scars to the psyche not.

    Good for Gergiev, if that report is true!

    • mary says:

      1) And certainly less a villain than Madoff (who by the way, didn’t even bother making the gesture of giving to the arts, even if it would’ve been with someone else’s money)

      2) Ans Villar is no where near the crook Donald Trump is (who by the way, didn’t even bother making the gesture of giving to the arts, even if it were tax-evasion dollars).

      Go ahead, you Putin-financed, far-right troll bots, have a field day responding to #2.

    • Madame Figarp says:

      Not true Peter Lusk also gave 5000,000

  • I have an odd memory of Alberto Vilar. Several years ago (I forget when) Vilar had very recently been released on parole. I put a post on SD about the advantages of Europe’s public arts funding systems compared to the private donation system used by the USA. Vilar responded with a message here on SD and said that the European public system is indeed better. I was surprised to see a comment from him, and found it interesting that one of the largest donors for classical music in history supported the idea of public funding systems for the arts. In another strange twist, a couple days later, Vilar’s parole was revoked and he was put back in prison.

  • merryweather says:

    And you still keep on ripping into Gergiev, Norman?

  • BigSir says:

    Gergiev has a heart.

  • Luciano Tanto says:

    Cuba es un país americano. Así que “cuban-american”, una redundancia.

    • sam says:

      The problem is white men named two entire continents after an Italian merchant, Amerigo Vespucci, when the continent was already occupied by indigenous people.

      Talking about legacy. Gates, Bezos, Carnegie, Bloomberg, Medicis… none have them have two continents.

      Talking about white privilege.

    • MWnyc says:

      “Cuba es un país americano. Así que ‘cuban-american’, una redundancia.”

      Pero “cubano-estadounidense” no se traduce al inglés.

  • Luciano Tanto says:

    …el problema con “american”, es que los EEUU es el único país sin un nombre propio.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      European Union. Get over it.

      • Hornbill says:

        EEUU is the Spanish abbreviation of what we Anglophones would call the USA – the Estados Unidos. Nothing whatever to do with the European Union.

    • sam says:

      USA would’ve been logically called Columbia, but then Colombia would have to find a new name, like Cristobia.

      Or USA as Georgia after King George II, but then the state of Georgia would need a new name, like Oglethorpia.

  • MacroV says:

    Wow. Wouldn’t you like to have that article back. But credit due for not burying it.

    I don’t know about Vilar dying in disgrace; he did his crime, he did his time. I hope he learned something from it and mended his ways best he could. He was entitled to rejoin society even if he lacked the means and opportunity.

    As for all the institutions that took off his name: If he fulfilled the terms of the gift, then I assume they’d have no legal basis to do so unless there was some kind of morals clause. More likely, as others have pointed out, many never received all the money pledged, in which case they had every right to do so.

    While not a fan of Gergiev’s politics, I’ll give him credit for standing by his friend when he was down.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      In the case of the Met, Vilar’s name remained on productions for which he fulfilled pledges. (To this day for any still in the repertory.) The money to name the Grand Tier never materialized. The Grand Tier was renamed after an even larger gift from Sid and Mercedes Bass.

    • Madame Figarp says:

      He never learned and was conning women until the day he died. And Gergiev was not the only person who helped. Peter and Jeanmarie Lusk also gave him 500,000 in a promissory note which he refused to pay back

    • obviously... says:

      If he didn’t fulfill his pledges (as has been pointed out ten times above) they had no reason to continue to honor a criminal.

  • Deborah says:

    He is dead and I am sure all the women he scammed for money once out of prison are not feeling that bad. Once a con always a con..just saying

  • fflambeau says:

    Vilar was a convicted crook and criminal who spent years in jail and was released under suspicious circumstances (many thought he bought his way out of more jail time).

    He was arrested in 2005 and found guilty of securities fraud, money laundering and a number of other serious counts after a jury trial. Like many white collar criminals, he was treated with white gloves by the judiciary and saw little time in prison compared to what he should have seen.

    Most of the money he “gave away” was obtained though money laundering, fraud, and securities exchange violations. This goes to prove that someone just giving money away should not automatically be considered a “good guy”. He was very bad news.

  • fcg says:

    For all the snarky comments from every perspective, this is kind of interesting. I look forward to reading a full obit somewhere.

  • Madame Figarp says:

    Alberto Vilar had an addiction to manipulative and psycho pathic behavior towards women and men until the day he passed away, especially when it came to other peoples money. He took no Accountability for any of his many crimes and misdemeanors. He has left behind a legacy of being merely a fantasist And left a trail of destruction. This is sad morally bankrupt man without A conscience. He has left behind no real legacy except that of Except that of a criminal

  • Paul Capon says:

    Do you think one could make an opera based on this life? Certainly, there would have to be Latin music from his heritage, and I am sure there are some potential arias that could be developed around his thoughts, and ever a duet with an opera general manager. It could be a variation on Paul Hindemith’s opera Cardillac where the goldsmith did not want to part with his creations. Here, the goldsmith was only too willing to part with other peoples creations….

  • Rodrigo F. Caruso says:

    Where is the funeral?
    Is there going to be a eulogy? By who?
    Where is he going to be buried?
    Did he have money set aside for funeral expenses?
    Is he going to be buried in a pauper’s grave?
    Readers want to know

  • Nick2 says:

    There is so much holier-than-thou comment here! I know little about Vilar. From the article above, he stole $21 million, was sentenced and served his time. Yet it seems he gave $200 to several major arts organizations. Even if the former figure is an underestimate a s the latter an overestimate, it seems very clear that he gave a great deal of his own profits to the arts.

    I recall that he had pledged a certain amount to the Royal Opera House during its renovation. From what I read at the time, he was only able to complete half of the pledge. Yet his name thereafter disappeared – not even a plaque on the wall acknowledging a major donor. Did he actually give any money for the Grand Tier naming right at the Met? If he even gave some, was that recognized?

    Gergiev was not the only conductor to help him. Vilar and Maazel put up the money for the worldwide Maazel/Vilar conducting competition which had its finals at Carnegie Hall in 2003. Vilar by then could not pay. So Maazel paid both shares.

    • Brettermeier says:

      “There is so much holier-than-thou comment here!”

      Probably because most of the readers here didn’t steal millions of dollars. (That’s just my assumption, who knows.)

      “Yet it seems he gave $200 to several major arts organizations.”

      That’s pretty easy if IT WASN’T HIS MONEY to give.

      “a great deal of his own profits to the arts. ”

      “Loot”. It’s called “loot”.

  • Zachary Binx says:

    Dude sounds like a badass. What? He served his time. Just because he’s still on probation he dies in disgrace?

  • R says:

    Bad comments,let him sleep in PEACE!! Hi paid for evrything… What a wicked and ungrateful WORLD !!!You have a soul???