Obituary: Austrian Arts Administrator Helga Schmidt Passes Away At 78

By Nicole Kuchta
(Credit: Opera World)

On Sept. 25, 2019, Helga Schmidt passed away at her residence in Piemonte. She was 78.

Schmidt, born in Vienna, grew up with an appreciation for the arts – her adoptive father worked closely with conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, and in her youth she was able to interact with many important names in the opera world. She became an assistant to Herbert von Karajan in 1963, and it was he who, according to Opera Actual, “baptized” her artistically, convincing her to pursue the arts and change her surname from Pittioni to Schmidt.

During the 1970s she served as Artistic Administrator of The Royal Opera, bringing in singers and conductors such as Montserrat Caballé, Kiri Te Kanawa, Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Carlos Kleiber, and Zubin Mehta. Schmidt also acted as Artistic Adviser to the London Symphony Orchestra and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

She was appointed General Director of the Palau de Les Arts Reina Sofía in Valencia, and sought out Lorin Maazel to develop the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana and Zubin Mehta to lead the Festival de Mediterrani. In Valencia, she helped develop the careers of Maria Agresta, Olga Peretyatko, and Erwin Schroot, and “was praised for her skill as a casting director and her rigorous work ethic,” according The Royal Opera’s website.

Royal Opera House Chief Executive Alex Beard commented on her passing: “First as Head of Opera Planning, and then as Artistic Administrator, Helga Schmidt made a great contribution to The Royal Opera during her eight years with the Company. She had a deep love and knowledge of both the repertory and artists and she will be greatly missed.”