All eyes were on Valencia last October when the Spanish city opened its shiny new opera house, the Palau de les Arts — the final jewel in architect Santiago Calatrava's magnum opus, the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencias complex.
Now, before the venue's first season has even begun, Valencia's Secretary of Culture, Ana Noguera, has criticized the "indecent" sum of €300,000 a year that the government pays to accommodate the "whims" of Helga Schmidt, superintendent of the Palau de les Arts.
The row has been reported this week by the Valencia newspaper Levante and the Madrid-based national daily El País.
Noguera presented documents and bills to the press that she claims prove Schmidt's extravagance, which reportedly includes personal trips, hotels costing more than €900 a night and renting a golf cart at €350 a month.
Levante says that Schmidt spent a total of €283,240 and €275,707 in 2003 and 2004, respectively. This included, in 2003, €10,000 on restaurants, €20,000 on hiring a chauffeured car and €40,000 on plane tickets, including business-class flights to Schmidt's home in Italy.
Schmidt signed a contract in 2005 stipulating that she would earn over €180,000 a year; according to Noguera, this is more than twice the salaries received by her counterparts at Madrid's Teatro Real or Barcelona's Liceu.
Noguera demanded an explanation from Francisco Camps, president of the Valencia city council, saying "Why are Valencians paying out of our own pockets and spending public money in such an indecent manner?'
For her part, Schmidt defended herself in an article in El País, saying that her salary is comparable to that of other high-level directors and that her travel costs were justified, as she needed to network with Lorin Maazel (the Palau's new music director), Daniel Barenboim and other prominent musicians in order to secure their commitment to the Palau de les Arts. She also said her salary was €160,000, not €180,000, adding that the intendant of Milan's La Scala "earns twice as much as I do."
She stressed that her employers only subsidized her business, not personal, expenses. She added that the Palau purchased economy class flight tickets for her and that she pays for upgrades herself.
The Palau de les Arts in Valencia, designed by Santiago Calatrava.