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Slipped Disc editorial: Madrid has covered itself in shame

UPDATE: Now en espagnol. Click here.

The sacking of Gerard Mortier as director of the Teatro Real is one of the uglier episodes in modern opera.

Mortier, never an easy character, made enemies by the shipload wherever he went (Brussels, Salzburg, New York, Paris) and there will be plenty who rejoice at his fall – those he offended by high-handed conduct and many more who loathed his post-modern production style. Enemies may even share a secret grin of satisfaction at the manner of his dismissal: it was left to journalists to tell the director that he had been thrown out, because the Real could  not be bothered to inform him in a proper and dignified way. Mortier has always been good at using media to get his own way. Some might say he has been shafted on his own weapon.

However, two aspects of the sacking will disgust all who have the best interests of opera, and Madrid, at heart. First, the human aspect. Mortier announced last week that he is receiving treatment for cancer in Germany. He had expected to continue in the job until 2016 and was assured that his survival prospects are good. To sack a man when he is fighting for his life is undignified, unChristian and unworthy of an organisation that claims to represent the spiritual side of a city and nation. The Teatro Real  has covered itself and the city of Madrid in shame and disgrace.

When Mortier’s lawyers make their case for unfair dismissal, there will not be an honest judge in the whole of Europe who will refuse their claim of aggravated damages. This will cost the Real dear.

But money is the least of the damage. In the last three years, Gerard Mortier has given opera in Spain a higher profile than it attained in three centuries. New productions, co-productions, world premieres – the forthcoming Brokeback Mountain announced on the every day he was sacked – have put the Teatro Real where it wants to belong: beside Real Madrid, at the very top of the game.

Sacking Mortier condemns the Real to instant relegation. His successor, Joan Matabosch, from Barcelona, is a capable administrator, but the bed he enters is still warm from its previous occupant. Matabosch will struggle to live down the shabby circumstances of his appointment. And even if he were Max Reinhardt or Luis Bunuel he will never rekindle the flame of renewal that Mortier brought to the Real. Madrid has scored a shocking own goal, one that will return to haunt it for many years to come.

gerard mortier


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  1. You are completely right in the formal aspects of the affair. But the great mistake of Teatro Real was to employ Mortier -by the way, earning 240.000 euros per year-, a master of egotism and a big manipulator. The things aren’t so simple.

  2. Harry Powell says:

    “In the last three years, Gerard Mortier has given opera in Spain a higher profile than it attained in three centuries.”
    This is simply false.

    • State your case.

    • Well, I have never been a great Mortier supporter, but indeed his achievement was that for the first time the rest of the opera world was talking about the productions of a Spanish opera house.

      • That people abroad talks about Madrid or Teatro Real may be great (for some; personally I don’t give a damn), but that operagoers in Madrid had to suffer Mortier’s way at opera was evil. I prefer much less talk, less hoopla, less “intelligentsia” and better singers. Reading about his legacy in the press, I miss a list of truly resounding productions, real hits. Many consider that his predecessor did far better. He is Spanish, from Cuenca (not Barcelona or Madrid, not even from Gent), so for the incorruptible international press, always searching for quality irrespective of names or nacionalities, we didn’t exist. A simple check of the past TR seasons should suffice to put things in order.

        • I must admit I have never followed closely the developments at the Teatro Real, so please feel free to correct me. I indeed do know better the Liceu though losing somewhat the contact in recent years. My impression however used to be that the quality of a production was usually judged by the one or two big names hired for the occasion, whereas nobody really cared about a sustainable quality development of ensemble, choir and orchestra.

          I’m not in a position to judge whether Mortier really did better in this respect, but I’m inclined to agree with him in his comments on Spain’s opera tradition in general.

          • The only orchestra in Spanish opera theatres that can compare with those of top european theatres was (is?) that of Valencia, newly created when Les Arts opened. Orchestras in Madrid, Barcelona and other venues are second rate. That’s the real situation. I think the core of a theatre are the orchestra and the chorus, and that one should work hard and devote many efforts to improve on that. Anyway, Mortier has done relatively little on that. True, the chorus is now very good, but the orchestra’s improvements have been marginal. Maybe in some more years he would have done better here, although the peculiar structure of the orchestra (a self-managed ensemble that provides services, in this case in the TR) is difficult to handle. So, we cannot ascribe to Mortier a tremendous improvement in the house’s forces. At least not in the orchestra, for sure. Thus, the differences between Mortier and his predecessor are: his approach to opera as an intelectual activity (controversial productions), opera as theatre (lack of interest in top singers), contempt towards those operas whose argument cannot be twisted to make of them something different from what they are, interest in non-operatic shows and in provoking an audience he dislikes. No surprise here: this is what Mortier has been doing all his life. But whereas he wants all us to change and approach to him and his dogmas, he is always the same and don’t move an inch.

    • I agree.
      Just take a look at what was done in the Real before Mortier’s arrival. Titles, singers and productions were much more interesting and the most important theaters coproduced. Please take a look also in Barcelona.
      I really wish him the best, but he talks far too much.

  3. Harry Powell says:

    Dear Mr. Lebrecht, if you would revise the historic “profile” of Spanish theaters during the 19th Century you would learn that both Madrid and Barcelona were major venues for decades. Every leading singer perfomed there. Mr. Mortier hasn’t created an operatic tradition in Spain: it existed long before his coming to Madrid.

  4. Beyond controversy and the respective merits that can be attributed to both Mortier and Matabosch, beyond the “what”, it is the “how” what I find scandalous. Spain honors, once more, its filibustery way of doing things: “España es diferente.” Well, the same dirt happens everywhere. But it is sad to see that, even in times where we should be doing our best to dignify our dire state of affairs, we, pardon, they, choose to rejoice in the same old, same old… The country has no remedy. I’m only glad they are not doing this with my taxes.

  5. Harry Powell says:

    Of course my considerations apply to the last decades of the 18th Century as well.

  6. Well said, Mr. Lebrecht. What’s interesting is that there are strict Spanish labor laws in place which specifically protect workers from being terminated when they are on sick leave, or “de baja”. Any employer who violates this is subject to significant fines for wrongful termination, or
    “despido improcedente”.

    What’s not clear here is if Mr. Mortier’s contract falls into the same catagory as common Spanish workers. He could have some fancy agreement above and beyond the norm which protects the Real from paying out. Had they tried this with a member of the Real Orchestra or any tenured staff, though, for example, management would be paying quite a bit.

    The act of firing someone while ill or pregnant is very clearly prohibited by Spanish labor law. All Spaniards know this. If Mr. Mortier was not specifically “de baja” – on official Spanish sick leave – perhaps the Real can get away with it. But that would be a loophole and against the grain, morally, of Spanish laws which protect ill workers.

    Mr. Mortier will do well in court no matter what the case is. Gregorio Maranon’s decision here, as Presidente del Patronato of the Teatro Real is repugnant. The fact that Mr. Mortier learned the news from reading it in the press is absolutely horrendous.

  7. raveldebussy says:

    Come on. The “case” raised by Mr Henry Powell is basically documented on many DVDs…

    And about your “Sacking Mortier condemns the Real to instant relegation” : state your case please!

    I trust 100% more in people like Joan Matabosch or Antonio Moral than Mr Mortier, whose multiple attempts to destroy a multitude of operas (remember Fledermaus in Salzburg?) have also been broadly documented.

    And how do you call a State who would have accepted having an employee publishing the list of the followers HE dignifies. This kind of humiliation would have been just grotesque beyond belief.

    The problem here is very simple: the egotism of Mortier made him loose all sense of reality. Now he got the boomerang in the face: for once!!!!! Bravo Spain.

  8. Here’s the latest: during the past hour Spanish headlines are trumpeting that the Real is confident that Mortier’s departure will not cost the theater anything. The headlines in more reputable papers change the “confident” to “hopes that”. The Real is hoping for an amicable negotiation with Mortier that will not reach the courts (??) and that they are saving money because Matabosch’s salarly is less than Mortier’s.

    Mortier, meanwhile, has declared from Germany that he is ill but not dead and plans a battle. Here’s one report:

  9. In his interview with El Pais last week Mr Mortier is quoted as saying:-

    ¿Y si el ministerio termina imponiendo el nombre de un español?

    —Si el Gobierno impone un nombre con el que no estoy de acuerdo, no esperaré a 2016. Me voy. No pienso estar trabajando un tiempo con una persona que no coincide con el proyecto que está desarrollando el Real.

    If you state categorically that you will not work with someone chosen by your employer of whom you do not approve, that you will then go and not stay until the end of your contract, the employer can often elect to treat that statement as a pre-emptive resignation and appoint a replacement.

    If you resign, you will normally forfeit any rights to compensation for breach of contract or unfair dismissal. The circumstances between Mr Mortier and the Teatro Real seem to be more complex, but a good employment lawyer would have advised him to be more circumspect in his public comments.

  10. I live in Madrid and love this town, but any effort to disguise the monstruous veil of shame that this heartless idiocy casts over Madrid is idle.

    Teatro Real had a prolonged decline from the Civil War, but a theatre that has been visited by artists like Patti, Gayarre, Nilsson, Tetrazzini, Schipa, Ruffo, Anselmi, Nijinsky, Richard Strauss, Nikisch and Stravinsky hardly deserves this repugnant “managerial way” of disposing of people.

  11. Maria Sanchez says:

    Sadly the Teatro Real, and other Spanish cultural institutions, are frequently the favorite plaything of our politicians, who are indifferent to the arts. I have never been totally agree with Mortier and I think that he was not the right man for the job, but I don’t like how things are being done, and in a moment when he is fighting for his life.
    That said, I’m afraid that you are ignoring the history of the Teatro Real history during the second half of the 19th century and the first third of the 20th when everyone, from Gayarre to Christine Nilsson or Titta Ruffo, was singing there. Some people (I don’t know if that is your case, Mr Lebrecht), tends to consider the Teatro Real only from the reinaguration of 1997.

  12. carlos cortes says:

    Whether you like Mortier or not, it’s always -unfortunately- the same in Spain. Politics come before cv’s and merit, and hence you have two people presenting an olympic international bid and one of them saying to a journalist “can you repeat the ask” (!!!!) great directors like Nacho Duato sacked to the joy of none others than the Russians or the Germans (that have rushed to hire him) , and a man that has just been diagnosed cancer being sacked without even being told to be replaced by someone less likely to make a stand. It’s bad everywhere, but when it comes down to culture it’s really unbearable to witness

  13. As Mr. Lebrecht says, Mr. Mortier is very good at manipulating the media, proof of that is using El País at portraying him in the victim’s role. But all of this happened for the interview he gave to that newspaper where he clearly said that if his succesor was not approved by him, in order to continue his project, he would leave immediately. Now, why does he want to start a dinasty? Maybe he conveniently “forgot” how he arrived to the Teatro Real…Is his “vision” of the opera the only possible one? He certainly thinks so, but this vision has done more harm than good, with Spanish singers being mistreated and humiliated in public and in the press with his comments that they do not know how to sing in style (and anyone with some interest can google the major opera houses in the world and find many Spanish singers in the casts year after year). I truly find Mr. Lebrecht’s comments that Mortier achieved a higher profile for the opera in Spain in three years than in three centuries rather dissapointing and out of line; maybe Mr. Lebrecht would need to read a bit more about the history of the Teatro Real and the Liceo (both well documented in several books and the media) as well as about Spanish music history of the previous centuries before making such statements; or maybe he never heard of the Valencia Opera and its Ring Cycle which received worldwide recognition? Raising the profile, at least the way I understand it, is done with the quality and artistic impact of the productions, not by the controversy, that is just so 70′s…

    Certainly I regret Mr. Mortier is sick and I understand that a man fighting for his life (borrowing the phrase from Mr. Lebrecht’s comments) does not show up at work for months; but how come he can find strength and energy to travel to other countries to give lectures (as he says in the original interview in El País)? That I do not understand, maybe there are more important things for him than the Teatro Real…

    It might be true that after this many of Mr. Mortier’s friends that were engaged for the following seasons will not come anymore; but is also true that MANY great artists that were not coming because of him will have to opportunity to perform there, starting with a great number of Spanish singers that were put aside in the past three years.

  14. The problem of Opera in Spain has been discussed in previous ocasions: lack of profesionalism and knowledge, and the fact that all contracts (or the majority of them) in the main houses (Barcelona, Madrid, Oviedo, Bilbao and Valencia) are controlled by unscrupulous agents. THis, of course, is similar to what happens in Italy.
    Just to give one example, the appearance of Pedro Halffter, who was also bidding for the top post in Madrid, embodies the worse practises in musical Spain: a mediocre artist promoted by an unscrupolous agent and a father that wants to have a say in musical life.
    I also agree with the comment that Opera, as a spectacle, has low quality in Spain (in Italy as well). Nowadays, it is not a question of having a handfull of star singers thrown into the stage: the pubvlic wants or deserves more. To deny this is to deny the huge advances made by opera representation in the last 30 years or so.
    In the case of the Real, I am sure that acrimony will drag on for months, and, certainly, this way of doing things will cost dearly in an already bankrupt Spain.

    • What does “the public” deserve? A distorted monster with well-known music, fraudulently presented, for instance, as Mozart’s Don Giovanni? What are those proclaimed huge advances made by opera representation in the last 30 years or so? Maybe the appropiation of masterpieces from the past by a gang of pseudoartists, incapable of creating anything worthy of being called “art”? The unfounded pretention that only Mortier has done anything worthy of being called “Opera” (capitals are yours) in Madrid is both false and disgusting. It is not only that in the years just prior to Mortier’s arrival we saw better productions with better singers. He even did not hesitate to “kidnap” the subscribers and tortured them by obliging them to see spectacles such as the ballet Choeurs or The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic. Surely huge advances made by opera representation.

  15. Some people attach too much importance to being in the media. And so what? Perhaps with Mortier the Teatro Real was given more importance in the international press. Was that due to the intrinsic quality of the spectacles offered? If that were the case, so good for the TR. Nevertheless, I (an operagoer from madrid) believe that it was rather due to Mortier’s prestige and good contacts with the media. Just on arrival, he insulted Madrid’s operagoers (“ignorants”). Brilliant! Without any trace of tact, he questioned the quality of the TR’s orchestra, the one he had to work with. If you begin by confronting the people that is supposed to fill the theatre and pay for the tickets (those given free of charge to the beautiful people and paid critics don’t count) and the foundation of any opera theatre, the orchestra, you won’t have it easy. He came pretending to show us what opera is, not knowing the city tradition, modest but by no means a void in a desert of ignorance. He banished great singers that used to come to TR, because what he understands as opera is just theatre, a theatrical recreation with music, and almost never faithful to the text or to the spirit of the music. Many operagoers (we ignorants) have deserted the TR, and I suspect Mortier has left the theatre in the verge of bankruptcy. He was chosen unilaterally by the politicians that managed the Spanish cultural policy years ago, but now he wanted to determine his successor in the post… Yes, the way he has been expelled from the TR is ugly, even unhuman, but I would like that journalists and media were more objective and knowledgeable of the real situation of Teatro Real and opera in Madrid.

    • itrinkkeinwein says:

      One early statement he made was that the theater faced “the wrong way”: toward the royal palace instead of the little plaza behind! Not a way to win friends in Madrid.

  16. itrinkkeinwein says:

    Wasn’t it just a year ago when Jesús López Cobos sued the Teatro Real, Gérard Mortier, and Gregorio Marañón for soiling his honor? He was also removed under a cloud, right? And Mortier made some tacky remark to a Vienna newspaper.

    Does anyone know where that lawsuit stands?

    • As far as I know that is schedule to happen soon, but I believe only against Mortier who was solely responsible of those claims…

  17. Perception is everything. Definitely an own goal for the Teatro Real. Lots of interesting comments. Thanks, Mr Lebrecht.

  18. While not qualified to enter into the argument about Spanish cultural politics I am qualified enough to say the following:
    Gerard Mortier had a vision of opera which in almost every case made the public react, one way or the other. His view of opera as theatre does not agree with everyone but in every theatre he worked in he left his indelible mark. There has never been any doubt about Gerard Mortier’s preferences. He never made a secret of his agenda. The fact that he used the press and public relations media to put forth his views is hardly unusual. The man is one of the most significant personalities in music in our time. He deserves to be treated with respect, which does not imply everyone needs to agree with his policies. Juan Matabosch is a capable and talented artistic administrator and one hopes that he uses his leverage to resolve Mortier’s exit in a fair way.

  19. Well, one tended to know better Mr Mortier than any of the singers that he brought… A better known manager than the top players? Errr…. Not in my team.

  20. As a distant observer of the Spanish opera scene, one can only agree with Mr. Lebrecht. Before Mortier came to Madrid, outside of Spain one was basically aware only of some Liceu productions issued on DVDs (mostly not original) and of Valencia Ring. Since Mortier took over TR I could name at least few productions that were making waves in the rest of Europe, e.g Mahagonny and last year’s Cosi, which was by many named as one.of the most significant productions last season, and there is of course upcoming, Brokebsck Mountain. So love him, or hate him, he did put Madrid on the opera map. And regardless of any achievements or problems, to treat him this way is absolutely abhorrent

  21. You are forgetting that one of the great things Mortier did was not to employ a fixed conductor, a director musical. Bringing directors such as Cambreling or specially Teodor Currentzis gave the Real orchestra much more quality. He also improved the choir quite a lot. He may not have brought the best singers, but he managed to bring a lot of quality productions that in recent years, and basically in the last century, haven’t come to Madrid. The Teatro Real, before Mortier, was stuck with zarzuelas and operas before the 20th century. I’m afraid to say that no Spanish director would have brought the things Mortier has brought. I agree with Gerard, Matabosch is good, but he has nothing to do with the project

    • Maybe I missed them, but which Zarzuelas were performed in the Teatro Real in the last 10 years? On the same line, maybe you missed the productions of Lulu and Wozzeck, as well as other ones of operas by Britten, Stravinsky, Krenek, Janacek, as well as several world premieres of a number of contemporary composers.

      I agree that a few of the conductors that he brought rised the quality of the orchestra, but not on a permanent level and that is where the importance of the music director comes into play. Since Mr. Lebrecht mentioned the Real Madrid in his comments I will make a similar comparison: you may have great players in a soccer team, but if you change the coach every week or two weeks, you might get results, but it is not the best way to develop the team and its identity.

      • Probably the main reason the Real’s orchestra, the Orquesta Sinfonica of Madrid, did not improve under Mortier is that he was constantly bringing in foreign orchestras for his productions. He announced publicly that he didn’t feel the orchestra was capable of playing certain scores, for example, and would bring in specialist orchestras for many productions.This was a horribly expensive proposition and a real slap in the face to the Orquesta Sinfonica. It’s pretty typical of how Mortier operated in disregard of the fact that he was working in Spain, with Spanish taxpayers’ money.

        When the Real’s orchestra was actually allowed to play, eye-witnesses reported that members would bow their heads in shame as they had to endure all the booing that went on for whatever happened onstage, which was not their fault.

        OK. The Real is a very difficult, politically charged audience. As Mortier said in an interview yesterday, it’s a “closed clan”. Foreigners and outsiders are definitely not welcome. The legacy of Franco. But Mortier really pushed the envelope with the orchestra, IMHO. You don’t take charge of an opera house with a resident orchestra (on the public payroll), and then decide to constantly bring in guest orchestras from other countries at tremendous taxpayer expense.
        It’s insulting and you can’t expect them to be too motivated to play well.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          But that’s the point. The Orquesta Sinfonica of Madrid could have improved, but only with a real music director. This is what happened in Paris under Chung, where suddenly the Bastille Orchestra became (known as) the best French ensemble, good enough to get a contract with DG. Unfortunately, hiring a great conductor needed in such circumstances is never an option. It’s so much easier to import a whole different orchestra whose conductor won’t meddle.

        • “Foreigners and outsiders are definitely not welcome.” “The legacy of Franco.” That’s a sheer exaggeration. And an unfounded one. Before Mortier, things run smoothly and started to improve, but some politicians wanted the Real in the media, sacked the artistic director and hired Mortier. The results of this move are well known.

          • Alberto, take a look at the orchestra roster for the Orquesta Nacional in Madrid. How many foreigners do you see?

            Then have a look at the rosters of the other Madrid orchestras, including the Real’s Sinfonica. Not too many foreigners there, either.

            Then check the rosters for the orchestras in the rest of Spain, where foreigners are well integrated. Madrid is an isolated, nationalistic island.

            Madrid is on a par with Vienna Phil as far as its willingness to accept foreigners into its
            orchestras. I’d assume that holds true for its opera world also.

    • I agree with the improvement of the choir, but not with that of the orchestra. To start with, the orchestra’s level (quality of the playing, involvement…) depens very much on the conductor. Before Mortier, the orchestra played very well for Rostropovich, Jiří Bělohlávek or Pinchas Steinberg, to mention just three names. Mark this, because some people think Teatro Real was a desert before Mortier’s revelation, and that is simply false. Those three are better than any conductor Mortier hired, leaving apart the singularity of the great Muti, that came with an intalian orchestra. Let’s say that the improvement of the choir has been obvious and remarkable, whereas that of the orchestra, if any, has been marginal and inconsistent. Not to mention that López Cobos, once musical conductor of TR, managed to induce some changes in the orchestra members, the results of which he could not enjoy, for the reasons we all know. Of course there is a wide margin for improvement in the orchestra, not in the same league as ROH or Paris.

      What “quality productions”? If “quality productions” means “controversial productions by frieds of Mortier”, I agree enthusiastically. If “quality productions” means what quality productions is by any reasonable standard, the you miss the point. With Moral, Mortier’s predecessor got far better singers, but also productions by Robert Carsen, Christof Loy, Warlikowski (Makropoulos) and many others. So, apart from balanced programming, better singers, wider repertoir, etc., there was also a stock of “modern” productions, some of them truly unforgettable, like Dialogues of the Carmelites or Katia Kabanova (both by Carsen, on DVD). I still have to see any mention of a memorable production Mortier has brought to TR in his three years tenure.

      The point is, and I must stress on this, that Mortier’s predecessor is Spanish and less mediatic, and so lacked interest for the always unruffled international press.

      • By quality productions I mean Cosí Fan Tutte by Michael Hanecke, which was very good, and he didn’t try to overdo it, like lots of directors tend to do nowadays. By quality productions I mean the premiere of The Perfect American. “The Life and Death of Marina Abramovich” wonderfully done by Bob Wilson (but I agree that, being more of a ‘performance’ piece, it didn’t really fit in the Teatro Real, but still, the fact that he put that in one of the most important opera theatres of Spain, which culturally is still far behing UK, US, Germany, etc). I agree there were productions like Macbeth by Dimitri Tcherniakov, which I hated, and Don Giovanni, which I luckily didn’t see, which were rubbish. This season there are going to be 2 productions by Peter Sellars (“The Indian Queen” and “Tristan und Isolde”), “Orpheo e Euridice” with the production of Pina Bausch. I think you can call that quality productions. Both Peter Sellars productions are going to have Teodor Currentzis as conductor, and he really brings a lot of energy to the orchestra (last year’s Verdi Requiem conducted by him was one of the best things I’ve seen).

        • We cannot judge what is comming, of which we only know the names in charge, but just what was done. You yourself recognise that the record isn’t that impressive. To premiere a poor and forgettable work, to which the media gave too much hoopla, cannot be considered a success by any serious OPERA theatre. Currentzis may be a dynamic conductor, even an exciting one at times, but he is an average, coarse conductor.

      • Totally agree.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      “One of the great things Mortier did was not to employ a fixed conductor, a director musical”? A curious statement.

      An opera house is, until further notice, a musical institution. If managers of Mr Mortier’s kind tend never to name a music director, it’s because they want to have complete control over everything that goes on in the theatre artistically speaking and they know perfectly well that a musical director of some authority would quite naturally (even if he’s an angel) gain some intolerable “clout”. And that’s because he’s dealing directly, not from a directorial cabinet upstairs, with the very stuff opera is made of.

      One of Mr Mortier’s predecessors in Paris declared openly an opera house doesn’t need a musical director and fired the one he inherited in ludicrous conditions. At his arrival in Paris, Mr Mortier declared his theatre will have not one, but… seven music directors (including the likes of Salonen, Gergiev, Jurowski etc). Of course, it proved to be pure fiction.

      An opera house should be run by a musician. These theaters work properly. Others rarely do.

  22. Mortier, call him what you like, was and is a visionary. Those who dislike him, cannot cope with the fact that he’s strictly untraditional, when this tradition has nothing artistic to convey. An interesting observation would be to follow the press in France; while they’re fighting an ugly war against him during his stay, they started running nostalgic articles about L’ Opera’s “Golden Age” after his departure in 2010. Those who don’t know the man personally, or follow the “claques” of each “regime”, see him as the enemy of the state. But Gerard Mortier, no matter what the vulgar consensus tends to believe is a highly cultivated man, with a mission to raise the standards and educate the audiences (and even the staff, as Pablo stated above in other words) of the cities/organisations, he resides.

    • And another thing, for each opera, Mortier invited the director and the conductor for a conference about the opera, and, although Mortier certainly doesn’t speak perfect spanish, he managed to show how much he knows about opera and how cultivated he is (something that polititians the heads of many cultural organisations in Spain can’t boast about). These conferences were free. He also, by himself, gave a 4 hour conference about Mozart. I don’t know if they did this before in the Teatro Real, but I doubt it.

      • A 4 hour conference (on Mozart or whatever) is sheer torture. The fact that this didn’t happen before Mortier isn’t to be regretted, but to be thankful.

        • It was divided in two days, and I for one, and I think everyone in the audience, enjoyed it.

          • I agree, Pablo. I attended several of his pre-opera conferences and found them fascinating. I enjoyed tremendously seeing and hearing Mortier up close, to have a personal glimpse of how he thinks. We had the chance to ask him questions, which he
            answered respectfully and thoughtfully.

            I especially loved that before one conference he had us, the audience vote on what language the conference would be conducted in! He made himself available in German, French, English, Flemish and Spanish, all of which he is fluent in. His Spanish is actually quite respectable!

    • A messianic and personalistic view, proper of a prepotent, yet cultivated person.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Unfortunately, one could easily quote surprising statements by Mr Mortier proving that ideological bias runs in him stronger than knowledge, which sometimes proves shaky. The last case being his comment on Brokeback Mountain, Puccini, Wagner and sentimentality.

  23. This evolving into a forum on Mr Mortier’s artistic policies which naturally invites all variety of opinion. BUT, the treatment of Mr Mortier was the starting point. It seems to have been shabby and heartless in the extreem.

    • You are right, but Mr. Lebrecht’s editorial pinpointed some aspects of Mortier’s doings and merits that should be discussed and put into proper perspective, say a “closer” perspective. And, apart from his real merits and doings in the Teatro Real, the fact is that Mortier pressed hard to control his own succession, and openly challenged the Spanish authorities (the ones that hired Mr. Mortier) and threatened to leave before his contract expired in case his candidates were not accepted. What should have those Spanish authorities done? To obbey Mr. Mortier?

      • Alberto, I completely agree with all your comments, they are right on the target.

      • interestedparty says:

        They should decently respond to his criticism that the selection procedure should bear comparison with those of other major european artistic institutions, in the ranks of which the government wish to see the Real, and recognise that imposing a criteria of nationality will, in an instant, lose the Real and the Spanish government the respect of the entire European artistic (and indeed non-artistic) community. The actions of the management and the government are utterly indefensible and abhorrent.

        • Do you know how was Mortier chosen for the post? Do you know how “transparent” was the procedure? Mortier should have handed over his candidates and recommend them if he wished, even suggesting to follow a clean procedure. That would be fine. But threatening to leave immediately if the Spanish authorities (those that hired him and pay him very generously) imposed a candidate that HE did not like, is arrogant ad nauseum. He was out from the very moment he said that in the interview for El País (that he called for). He thought he was Kim Jong-il and that he had to leave in charge a person in whom HE confides, forgetting that he is not the owner of the company. Can Mr. Lebrecht or Mr. Mortier’s supporters imagine Antonio Pappano threatening ROH management to quit immediately (in case he decides to leave at some time) if the management does not accept his candidates? Crazy.

          • Interestedparty says:

            Perhaps you are right that it is a little bit arrogant, but I could never imagine the Royal opera house excluding Pappano from the process in order to fulfil a political agenda. That would not stand.

          • Interested party said: “I could never imagine the Royal opera house excluding Pappano from the process in order to fulfil a political agenda. That would not stand.” You’re right, but I think the ultimate reason was Mortier’s handling of the situation. For instance, when Josep Pons left the Orquesta Nacional, he suggested the name of David Afkham as his succesor. The orchestra and the audience was happy with that. There were political maneuvering but, in the end, Afkham was the chosen one. You see, a German, not Spanish. No nationalistic issue here. But Pons was far more elegant and discrete than Mortier. He worked and kept his mouth closed. But there is people that have to talk even under water.

          • To Alberto regarding the appointment of Afkham. “No nationalistic issue here”. REALLY? Afkham’s appointment process was a nightmare, delayed for at least a year, most likely by politicians with their own agenda.

            Politicians were pushing tooth and nail for Pedro Halffter, a Spaniard, for the position. If you recall, the day before the original announcement of Afkam’s appointment to the press, it was suddenly withdrawn. We heard nothing more for a year. It took that long, apparently, for the artistic powers to win their victory over the politicians and their nationalistic agenda.

            Yes, Afkham was finally appointed, but it was not an easy appointment because the powers that be wanted Halffter, a Spaniard, for the job.

          • To Rodrigo: maybe you are not aware that another major orchestra in Madrid (the RTVE orchestra) is conducted by an Uruguayan/Austrian person. And before Afkham was appointed the other name on the table was that of a Peruvian conductor currently living in America and Germany. Furthermore, the Zarzuela Theater (as national as it can get) is directed by an Italian. So much for closed circles and Franco’s spirit heading the way…

          • Rodrigo said: “Afkham’s appointment process was a nightmare, delayed for at least a year, most likely by politicians with their own agenda.”
            Yes, a nightmare (Afkham’s appointment) that ended for good (I cross my fingers). I think that you overemphasize the nationalistic component. The Orquesta Nacional had Ceccato as principal conductor (don’t think Argenta, Frühbeck, López Cobos or Pons were bad choices). And the Radio and Television Orchestra had Arpad Joo, Sergiu Comissiona, Adrian Leaper and Carlos Kalmar (no Spanish here). Daniel Harding was approached by Teatro Real, but Mortier didn’t want one music conductor, he wanted many… chosen by him. Don’t forget that it is difficult to enroll competent foreign batons because they find other offers more attractive. Eliahu Inbal was mentioned at some point years ago, but he finally signed for an italian orchestra. Liceo had Weigle as musical director. Valencia, that had to press hard from the very beginning, relied on Mehta and Maazel. Very expensive fireworks that, at least, while the money lasted, helped to raise a very good orchestra, the best in Spain. Some people think that’s the way to work things out. Money, foreign musicians and conductors. Sure, if you can afford it, you can buy an expensive imported car, but if you care for the national industry, investing money on it, trying to make better cars, is the best mid- or long-term solution (and forming good technicians). The difference is that you can do whatever you want with YOUR money. When public money is at stake, you have to think on the model you want to develope. This considerations apart (in my opinion) to relate Mortier’s dismissal with a purported nationalist agenda is to err the point.

          • Alberto, thanks for your very interesting post here about Inbal and the foreign baton situation in Madrid. Many other wise insights as well.

            Quite right about Valencia. When I referred to the level of the Valencia orchestra in a previous post I was not talking about the LesArts orchestra, it was about the Orquesta de Valencia, quite a different can of worms artistically and with regard to its admission of foreign players.

            I do not suggest that Mortier’s dismissal was because of a nationalist agenda, I am saying is that the naming of his successor definitely was. This is quite clear: Mortier recommended foreign candidates, politicians said “no” that they wanted a Spaniard. That was nationalistic.

            To Javi, just so that YOU know, the Peruvian candidate you mention was a red herring. His name was thrown to the press a couple of days before Afkham’s appointment as a
            decoy, probably a means of keeping attention away from the actual proceedings. He was never being considered as a serious candidate.

            I do not claim that Madrid has a bias against foreign conductors. Neither does Vienna Philharmonic. Madrid seems to feel that an orchestra where foreigners are not welcome conducted by a foreign conductor of international status will somehow rectify any weaknessness in the players, and allow the orchestra to be competitive on an international level. I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way. I’m sure most conductors would agree.

          • To Rodrigo: The situation of the Teatro Real orchestra is very peculiar. That is a self-managed orchestra that offers its services, in this case to TR. In the past they played at La Zarzuela theatre, that prior to Teatro Real reopening use to hold Madrid opera season. That orchestra have some foreigners, most of them settled in Madrid since years ago. The concertmaster, for instance, is russian. Years ago Ara Malikhian was the concertmaster. Unless TR decides to raise a completely new orchestra, this one is difficult to change, to improve, because os its inner structure and management. You take it or leave it. Orquesta Nacional is another story. There are some foreign musicians (see, but just a few. As for the direction of the Opera Theatre, if you take a look at the history of Paris Opera, you will see that most directors have been French. And if you look at the history of Covent Garden… well, now they have a dane, but in all past years? To sum up, I still think you overemphasize Spanish national pride in this issue. I think a quick replacement for Mortier was needed and TR and politicians favour Matabosch just because they didn’t want to make another mistake following Mortier’s suggestions. After all, Matabosch has directed Barcelona’s Liceo for the last 16 years. I do not remember loud voices blaming Barcelona for being nationalist for having Matabosch and not wanting a good foreing director that would have put Liceo in the map of Europe.

  24. “In the last three years, Gerard Mortier has given opera in Spain a higher profile than it attained in three centuries” – that’s completely preposterous and downright ridiculous; Spain has for at least 3 centuries had singers like the Garcia family, including Malibrans, Pastas, Viardots,then Julián Gayarre, Miguel Fleta, Lucrezia Bori, Hipolito Lázaro, Maria Barrientos, Conchita Supervia, Maria Gay, Elvira de Hidalgo, Merecedes Capsir, José Mardones, and the more recent Kraus, Aragall, Domingo, Carreras, Sardinero, Pons, Caballé, Berganza, de los Angeles, Lorengar – aswell as the generation of younger singers such as Celso Albelo, Maria Bayo, Maria José Montiel, Isabel Rey, Nancy Fabiola Herrera, Ainhoa Arteta, Maria José Moreno, Angeles Gulin, Mariola Cantatero, Milagros Poblador, a generation of singers that have been banned from Mortier’s policies due to the fact that he dislikes spanish singers, as much as he dislikes italian repertoire, wich is the bread and salt of spanish opera life. During the legendarian 33 years of Juan Antonio Pámias leadership, Barcelona’s Liceu Opera house didn’t have one season without any of the spanish glories that I have mentioned above, aswell a international singers. But those were the days when the Liceu was the leading spanish opera house and a private corporation, while the capitals Coliseum had been closed for a quarter of a century. I have to agree with Luis above: the mistake was to employ Mortier in the first place. The Real Opera House has lately, especially since the days of Antonio Moral been a snakes nest based on intrigues and political manipulations. Nothing new; Italy’s opera life works much in the same way, so there is no wonder that theaters are closing one after the other. The good thing in Mortier’s defence is that he has always made it very clear that he doesn’t want to dance to the tune of power-horny, snobbish and downright incompetent politicians such as José Ignacio Wert. Nevertheless, you can’t blame the Madrid audience if they will jubilate the day Mortier leaves the Teatro Real.

    • All the singers you list worked mainly abroad, not at the Real. The Real itself scarcely impinged on the world’s operatic attention.

      • But then maybe the comment (although in my opinion still not fair and well beyond reality) should have been: “In the last three years, Gerard Mortier has given the Teatro Real a higher profile than it attained in three centuries”. Spain was far from being an empty land with no opera, and has a history and tradition that goes further back than Farinelli’s time in Madrid.

      • The Real was not in the focus of world’s operatic attention because it was closed for 72 years, after a nearly “glorious” 75 years first stage. And the closure coincides exactly with the golden age of opera in Europe and in the world: recordings, cinema, dvd, etc.. The Real started literally from scratch in 1997 (only 16 years ago), overshadowed by the prestige of the Liceu.

        Really the difference is that the opera world is watching what you do in Madrid? We are not London, Berlin or Milan, and certainly should not be our goal. Our goal should be the best possible opera to Madrid, good enough to attract the best artists possible, and offer good quality shows, but, let’s face it, we can not fall into the trap of trying to compete with who has more tradition, more prestige … and more money for the opera.

        I think it’s not worth that opera fans in the world enjoy at home with the DVD of Mahagonny or Persephone (!!!!) If in the meantime the locals have to suffer Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni.

        The Real may be a worthy second division European theater, where we have already seen, in these 16 years, great shows, from 1998 Boheme to 2013 Cosi, both inclusive. And an opera house with great technical possibilities (I encourage everyone to attend the guided tour into the stage, every day). I honestly think Mortier years will have its good consequences for the future (Mortier marking, for better or worse), but that will be if we do not reach first the bankrupt because of him. Following the parallel with soccer, Real already had and suffered his own Mourinho. Trust in the future…

        • What an interesting and very positive post, Fer!

          I agree, the guided tours of the Teatro Real are a delight, and there are tours in English!

          Anyone planning a trip to Madrid visit the Real should take one of the tours (which are very inexpensive) and perhaps dine in the elegant restaurant in the Teatro which has stars on the ceiling painted to replicate the sky the night the Teatro reopened in 1997! Very beautiful!

          • if it is true that Real has superb guided tours in English and other languages, but on the other hand, Mortier’s high-profile theater don’t have an English version of their website.

  25. I’m always suspicious about the validity of the argument, if people play the national card, like some here do. Nationalism is irrelevant and even destructive when it comes to musical merits. The Spanish do have a fatal attraction though to putting nationality over artistic excellence. The Franco suffocated the country by denying it from healthy international exchange. Leadership positions, orchestra posts and Professorships had to be given to Spaniards.

    One prominent example is how Rafael Frühbeck, a German by birth yet grown up in Spain, had on Franco’s request to change his name to a believable Spanish fake identity, Rafael Frühbeck “de Burgos”, to gain the post of the chief conductor of the Spanish National SO.

    • So right, David. And then the Orquesta Nacional fired RFB after 15 yrs. anyway. Didn’t seem to impede his career any. Maybe Mortier should learn from this. Madrid is a closed, nationalistic place musically. Mortier is definitely not the 1st casualty.

      • I don’t think that’s 100% true. The first artistic director of the new TR was Stephane Lissner. He was dismissed in 1996 by the conservative gobernment of Aznar before the TR opened (in 1997). Then there were three Spanish directors, and then Mortier. Now we don’t have money to pay the astronomical salaries of figures such as Mortier (+240000 euro/year), and we don’t have to follow Mortier’s “instructions” to the letter. If he leaves, then the Spanish authorities have to look for a substitute. I would have liked a cleaner, thoughtful and more paused procedure, without all this tension. Joan Matabosch has directed Barcelona’s Liceo for 16 years. Don’t sound like a bad choice. But some comments around appear to imply that Spanish are unable to run a theatre, and that smart europeans (casually friends of Mortier) have to come to tell us how. If some consider that that is arrogant, it would not surprise me at all.

        • Alberto, you missed my point. Raphael Fruhbeck de Burgos was fired as Music Director of the Orquesta Nacional, also in Madrid, after 15 years. That is 100% true. He allegedly came up against the same government controlled arts powers in Madrid that Mortier encountered. I am saying that Mortier is not Madrid’s 1st artistic casualty in this respect.

          • I fully agree with the criticisms on goverment controlling artistic decissions. Nevertheless, I don’t think that Mortier should have controlled his own succesion either, in a fashion proper of dictators. Hand over your candidates, propose a clean procedure, based on merit (irrespective of nacionality), tell us when you are leaving, and leave the decission to the organism that is entitled to it. Those would have been the correct steps. But he did otherwise. Well, he is Gerard Mortier, and doing otherwise would have been contrary to his personality. He aired HIS candidates and threatened to leave immediately if they were not accepted. I think that, even the criticisms are true, what prompted the Spanish authorities to hire Matabosch (not a bad candidate I believe) was Mortier’s way of handling the situation. He bemoans that he has been informed through the press, but he used the press to throw his challenge. On the presence of foreigners in the Orquesta Nacional de España, I think it is far better to improve the level of local musicians that to spend a lot of money in raising a foreigner’s orchestra. The impact on Spanish music of having orchestras composed only or mostly by Spanish musicians (that can be true of the Orquesta Nacional, but it isn’t the case of other orchestras) can be subjected to discussion, but I don’t see the point in spending money, Spanish money in this case, to have a very good orchestra composed in the most part by foreign musicians. That’s an expensive toy that do not pays off.

          • Alberto said “On the presence of foreigners in the Orquesta Nacional de España, I think it is far better to improve the level of local musicians that to spend a lot of money in raising a foreigner’s orchestra”

            Franco certainly would have agreed with you, Alberto.

          • @Alberto, regarding the presence of foreign musicians in Spanish orchestras: the present high level of most Spanish orchestras is largely due to the influx of foreign musicians in the early 80′s.

            As any Spanish music director working now and during that time – be it Maestro Pons, Victor Pablo Perez or even Frubeck de Burgos – will tell you, Spanish
            orchestras have improved dramatically since foreigners have been allowed admittance.

            This was one of Frubeck de Burgos’ big issues when he was Music Director of the Nacional. He insisted that without the incorporation of foreign players, Spanish conservatories and orchestras would go downhill, unable to compete on an international level. Victor Pablo Perez has stood before orchestras and said exactly the same thing.

            I hate to play this card, but it’s the truth: listen to the levels of Spanish orchestras where foreigners are well integrated – Bilbao, OBC, OSPA – which are very high, and then listen to those which insist aggressively on hiring almost all Spaniards, like the Nacional or Valencia. The proof is in the pudding.

            Spanish conservatories have not yet reached a level where their orchestras can afford to hire exclusively Spaniards. Just as in the world of opera or orchestra management Spain must keep its options open for foreign candidates. It’s not publice money spent on foreign talent, it’s public money spent on insuring Spain’s ability to measure up musically on an international level.

          • It is too easy to throw in Franco in the game as an attempt to disqualify other points of view and to try to feel smart…but the truth is that if the Germans, Austrians, French or Belgians do support their art and artists it is called tradition and it is seen as something normal, but for Spanish people to do it is nationalistic and put in the same drawer as a dictator; seems quite ridiculous to me.

          • Rodrigo said: “Franco certainly would have agreed with you, Alberto.”
            Is that an argument? I tried to explain wahy I think so, but just sticked to some sentences of my message.

          • Javi said “but the truth is that if the Germans, Austrians, French or Belgians do support their art and artists it is called tradition and it is seen as something normal”.

            Javi, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the other German orchestras, welcome foreign players. They are constantly searching for the best talent possible, no matter what the nationality, same with the top US orchestras. French orchestras feature many outstanding foreign players and welcome them. Vienna is possibly the only orchestral scene that can compare with its rabid nationalism to Spain’s , or at least to Madrid’s.

            Spaniards carry the “national pride” issue to unusual extremes. And yes, it’s only logical to blame it on the legacy of Franco who preached this. Spaniards seem to feel that if they insulate their world, keeping foreigners out and criticizing and belittling the foreigners who are there, and keep telling each other that they, Spaniards, are the best, that they will be the best. It’s very childish and transparent. And in music, it doesn’t work.

            They also seem to think that other countries do the same which is a big mistake. Spain’s nationalism is aggressive, it excludes foreigners and it’s very immature. Nothing like what you’d see in any other country. Spaniards do not seem to understand this.

            No one is trying to “feel smart” here. I am hoping to possibly open a few Spanish eyes to the fact that this “orgullo” is very backwards and will only serve to bring the level of music making in Spain, especially Madrid, way down.

    • Rafel Frühbeck Frühbeck -twice- born in Burgos (Spain), not in German. What tediousness!

      • Exactly, Luis. Even a competent, super-qualified Spaniard, RFdeB, now with a proven international career, couldn’t win against the politicians in Madrid trying to control the music world. Mortier, as a foreigner, didn’t stand a chance.

  26. Yes Norman, but Mortier is still NOT the man who put spanish operatic art in the international map in three decades! Spain is not exactly a third world country! Please, measure your judgement instead of getting carried away.

  27. Jeffrey E. Salzberg says:

    It’s “español.”

    (No need to publish this comment)

    • I prefer to think that NL was using the French phrase “en espagnol”! Strictly speaking to avoid confusion or ambiguity, rather than describing the language of the translated text in El País as “español” it’s more precise to use “castellano”, the official “lengua española” of Spain as a whole and the language of El País’ main publication.

  28. Edmond Clement says:

    Mortier is widely believed to have brought the New York City Opera to its knees. Would allowing him to fulfil his conract in Madrid have had the same result for the Teatro Real?

    • Gonout Backson says:

      He couldn’t “have brought to its knees” a theatre he never directed. Named Feb 2008, to take over in 2009, he resigned prematurely in 2008 after severe budget cuts he wouldn’t approve.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Sorry, he was named in February 2007, not 2008.

  29. The only unfortunate thing about this business is that Mortier is only one of those who needs sacking for their crimes against opera

    • Gonout Backson says:

      I think the fundamental “unfortunate thing” about this business is that he wasn’t “sacked” for his artistic choices (however he would like to, and will, pretend this was the cause), but only (in the worst of circumstances and in a particularly ugly way) for reasons way beyond, or should we say: beneath, any artistic consideration. As Fouché would say : It is worse than a crime, it is a clumsy mistake.

      • Surely the right thing to do would have been to drop the pants and accept whatever Mortier wanted to do with the theatre and HIS succession, as happens everywhere. I am fed up with this theme. Mortier’s programming has expelled the suscribers (ignorants, according to this genius) from Teatro Real and has left a big hole in its finances. Quite an achievement of this learned, educated, and sympathetic man. I will be happy to see him getting lots of offers from everywhere, from all those well managed theatres where politics is kept at bay, that are blaming Madrid for his sacking.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          The “right thing to do” would have been not to name him in the first place. Whoever did that, cannot pretend he/they didn’t know what they were buying.

          • Alberto, I do agree very strongly with what you mentioned about Pons going about recommending his successor in a very different, more genteel manner than Mortier. What you’ve explained makes absolute sense. It’s a detail, a way of doing things in Madrid that eludes many foreigners. It’s a cultural difference that Mortier clearly did not understand. Thank you for explaining it so well. I think it’s at the heart of this issue.

          • That’s quite true. After all, Mortier came to do what he has been doing everywhere during his whole career. Those who did it… one is out of business since the last elections, and the other presides over the Patronato. This last is the bad guy, a survivor that would sell Mortier or his mother to remain in the seat.

  30. talking about money,Mr Ronaldo ears 17.000.000 € a year …

  31. Interestedparty says:

    So it looks as though Mortier will remain until the end of the year, after which he will be ‘artistic advisor’.

    My bet is that this is a disguised payout to prevent the Real from losing any more dignity in court. A very badly handled situation…

  32. A participant in and fan of opera says:

    How funny, this toadying tempest in a teapot. When I think of opera, I think first and foremost of the composers, then the greatest of singers, perhaps next the occasional conductor, and lastly some administrator, no matter how “seminal” we are told in the press that they are supposed to be. It will always remain more Wagner’s Ring and the like, than Mortier’s Ring and those things with which he is supposed to be credited. Consider how far we have gotten from the music, the music and the music, and how deep into politics — discussions of nationalism and the like — law and legalism. In a couple of generations, it will remain Puccini’s Turandot (as another example among many), and not some manager or stage director’s. How very funny. The real question is who is to be found to be our next Wagner or Puccini, not our next Mortier or Matabosch or even Lebrecht. Time will tell, and then this tomfoolish tea pot will have been long poured out.

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