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High noon in Madrid: Maestro demands Mortier’s head

Our friends at Scherzo magazine report that relations between the conductor Jesus Lopez-Coboz and the Teatro Real director Gerard Mortier have reached snapping point, with someone leaking a letter to a German website, threatening legal action if Maestro doesn’t get satisfaction within seven days.

Apparently Mortier told an Austrian newspaper that J L-C used to be music director at the Real, ‘but we threw him out’. This, says JL-C, is misrepresentation of the facts and a stain on his honor, the more so since it was he who declined to renew his contract.

We don’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of this complicated personnel matter, but it bears more than passing resemblance to the state of affairs at Madrid’s other Real, the football club, where the foreign manager, Mourinho, appears to be on his way out.

If any Spanish speaker would care to translate the conductor’s letter and enlighten us about the situation, we’d be grateful. Gracias!



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  1. More drama at the Teatro Real. What the house doesn’t need is Mortier… Since him arrive and Lopez Cobos left there isn’t a true musical leadership and the season is full of tittles of limited interest.

  2. OK, let’s give it a try. Apologies for any inaccuracies, neither Spanish nor English is my native language, nor am I a professional translator.


    Madrid, 27 February 2013

    Dear Mr. García,

    I am approaching you in your condition as Director General of the Tatro Real in order to involve you in the events I will describe as follows an I consider you should be aware of, not only for you to value them, but also to claim for their rectification for considering them to vulnerate my right of honour protected by art. 18.1 of the Spanish Constitution and developed by the Organic Law 1/1982 of May 5th, as I will relate:

    On February 22 this year, in the culture section of the nationwide Austrian newspaper “Kurier”, and interview with Mr. Gérard Mortier, current Artistic Director of the Teatro Real, was published, and, answering one of the questions asked, the following statement about my person is given, which I reproduce literally in German as original language and translated into Spanish:

    “Einen Chefdirigenten gibt es nicht?
    Jesús López-Cobos war Chefdirigent, bevor ich in Madrid war. Aber er hat mit dem Orchester kaum gearbeitet. Wir mussten ihn rauswerfen.”

    “There is no chief conductor?
    Jesús López-Cobos was chief conductor before I came to Madrid. But he rarely worked with the orchestra. We had to fire him.”

    For the mere effect of verification, in the digital version of the named newspaper, the complete version of the interview can be found at the following link:

    We consider these statements absolutely fraudulent, dishonouring me, given the claim of false facts and the expression of value judgements that attac my dignity, discredit my fame and professional reputation and vulnerate my self esteem according to art. 7.7 of the Law for the Protection of Honour referred to before.

    The noted statements are not conform with reality, which is no other than the one reflected in the letters of recognition of my merit that were directed to me by Mr. Miguel Muñiz, former Director General, as well as by The President of the Patronate of the Teatro Real Mr. Gregorio Marañón, which are at your disposition if needed.

    Mr. Mortier, contradicting the most absolute truth, declares that “I rarely worked with the orchestra and they had to fire me as chief conductor of the Teatro Real”, whereas the truth is that, by my own will, I decided not to further extend my conract with the mentioned institution, as can be verified by the according documents.

    In the same way it is contradictory that Mr. Mortier declares – in the 1st person of plural – “we had to fire him” when, on the date when I decided not to extend my contract, Mr. Mortier was not even in charge of any function within the Teatro Real.

    Due to all this, I find myself obliged to demand the appropriate declarations to be given to rectify the illegitimate intrusion spread on the past day 22 February in the culture section of the newspaper “Kurier”, as well as by the Teatro Real as by Mr. Mortier, and particularly referring expressively to my recognised work during my time in office with the orchestra, clarifying that before expiring my contract with the Teatro Real, it was me who took the decision not to extend it.

    If, once expired a period of seven days after recieving this communication, you will not accept to give the named rectification, signed by the Teatro Real as well as by Mr. Gérard Mortier, I will feel free to demand protection of my right of honour by the appropriate legal means.

    The present communication will on the same way be given to the attention of Mr. Gérard Mortier for the effect of complying with the demandable formalisms as well as to the President of the Patronate of the Teatro Real Foundation, Mr. Gregorio Marañón.

    Yours sincerely

    Jesús López-Cobos

    • thanks, Simon!

      • You’re welcome.

        By the way, I’ve just seen that in the online version of the mentioned Kurier-interview, at the incriminated passage, there’s an editor’s note: “Lopez-Cobos fiel zuletzt in Wien u. a. bei der „Cene­rentola“-Premiere durch.” – “López-Cobos’ recent Cenerentola-premiere in Vienna fell flat.”

        • itrinkkeinwein says:

          JLC is no good with Rossini, but he is a fine musician and conductor, effective in a wide repertory, and to suggest that he hardly (“kaum”) worked with the orchestra is colossally at odds with the facts. Also, Mortier’s use of “Wir” (had to fire him) doesn’t quite go with the statement that JLC’s tenure had ended before Mortier’s arrival.

          We will see an apology here.

          • neil van der linden says:

            Anyway it is a New Testamental mixup, Jesus demanding ‘Den Kopf will ich haben’.

  3. I don’t get it. Why the photo of Ronaldo?

  4. Here’s the latest:

    Teatro Real has just responded to the Maestro’s letter but is claiming they have no jurisdiction over or responsibility for what Mortier says to the press. Absurd.

    Mortier is already walking a fine line in Madrid with his costly extravaganzas at Teatro Real on Spanish taxpayers’ euros during this economic crisis. He seems to have little regard or respect for Spaniards in general, except to provide money for his projects.

    Spain is getting a little tired of Gerard Mortier and this time he’s gone too far. It probably never occurred to him that a Spanish conductor would get wind of an off-the-cuff comment which is blatantly untrue in an Austrian interview. Mortier has severely underestimated Jesus Lopez-Cobos, who is a man of honor and integrity with a lifetime of international experience in the professional music world.

    As far as Teatro Real taking no responsibility, well SOMEONE has to rein Mortier in. No one in Spain seems to know how to do this, but I have a feeling that Lopez-Cobos will be able to.

    • itrinkkeinwein says:

      An inadequate response by Ignacio García-Belenguer. Also a missed opportunity for the theater to disavow Mortier’s inaccuracy and to distance itself from the damage to the conductor’s reputation! How stupid.

      It will be interesting to see how this plays out, because JLC is clearly serious.

    • Thanks for the link, Carmen. It’s even more absurd. According to ABC, the Director General of the Real writes to JLC:

      “…según lo que conozco, el Director Artístico, Gerard Mortier, al referirse a la finalización de su contrato con el Teatro Real, expresó en la entrevista a la que se refiere su carta, que ésta finalización se debió a la no renovación del contrato.”

      “…as far as I am informed, the Artistic Director, Gerard Mortier, referring to the termination of your contract with the Teatro Real, expressed in the interview your letter refers to that this termination was due to the non-renovation of the contract.” (my translation)

      This is completely false. In the interview, G.M. says “Wir mussten ihn rauswerfen”. “Rauswerfen”, literally “to throw out” is a somewaht colloquial, and somewhat pejorative, expression for dismissing an employee. JLC was completely right in translating this into Spanish as “echar”.

  5. Galen Johnson says:

    The arrogant Mortier has little respect for Americans, either, and the current pathetic quasi-existence of New York City Opera is essentially his fault. J L-C, on the other hand, is an excellent musician and generous colleague.

  6. I agree that it’s an inadequate response. I’m wondering if JLC will have to go after the Austrian newspaper for printing something that’s untrue. Or maybe he can just go after Mortier directly with a lawsuit.

    • itrinkkeinwein says:

      In America he would sue the newspaper, the theater, Mortier, and Mortier’s cat.

      In Spain he must rely on the “honor” law that harks back to Don Quixote.

      He worked with the orchestra for years. Who knows whether he jumped or was pushed.

  7. Michael Pearson says:

    Bizarre. JLC gave many concerts with the opera orchestra and was chief for some time leaving of his own accord. Fact.

  8. Here’s a a blog in English which references an interview JLC gave when he left Teatro Real. He made it perfectly clear at the time that he was choosing not to renew his contract.

    JLC can prove unequivocably that Mortier lied to the press. We all know what Mortier said is not true and it can be proven to be a lie. The problem is, who does he prove it to? Since this happened in Austria, maybe international libel laws, or local laws governing Austria’s press would apply. In Spain, can’t he “denounce” Mortier for maligning him?

    Fortunately JLC’s wife is German, so he has a fluent German speaker on his side if need be with the Austrian press.

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