Gerard Mortier

Director of the Belgian National Opera

Gerard Mortier is a prominent figure in the Opera world; he was Director of the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, the Salzburg Festival and the Opéra National de Paris. He died on Sunday the 9th of March 2014 after fighting cancer.

Gerard Mortier was born on the 25th of November 1943 in Ghent, Belgium. He obtained a PhD in Law, as well as an undergraduate degree in Communication Science, from Ghent University. Passionate about opera, he began his professional career as assistant to the director of the Festival of Flanders. In 1970 he published a pamphlet in which he described the Royal Opera of Ghent as a “Flemish cultural scandal” and called for the formation of the Flanders Opera. 

Gerard Mortier left Flanders in 1972 and moved to Germany where he directed the Dusseldorf Opera (from 1972 to 1973), the Hamburg Opera (from 1973 to 1977) and the Frankfurt Opera (from 1977 to 1979). After a short stint in Paris, managing a project at the Opéra de Paris with Hugues Gall and Rolf Liebermann, he took over the running of the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels. Whilst there he made Sylvain Cambreling Musical Director and put on productions by Luc Bondy and Patrice Chéreau. Before his arrival la Monnaie was mainly devoted to ballet and the shift of focus, to include more opera, caused friction between Mortier and choreographer Maurice Béjart, who saw that Mortier’s funding was slashed then left Belgium in 1987. 

Spurred by his time as Director of la Monnaie, Mortier left Brussels in 1992 and took over the running of the Salzburg Festival, a role that he held until 2001. As Festival Director he developed a new subscription system, to encourage the public to discover less well-known works and contemporary music.

In 2004 Gerard Mortier took over from Hugues Call as the head of the Opéra National de Paris. He hoped to put on more new productions and to invite more guest conductors. During his first season his programme included a new production of Saint François d’Assise, productions by Olivier Messiaen and Katia Kabanov, as well as Janacek’s De la maison des morts, Handel’s Hercules, Mozart’s The Magic Flute and La Clemenza di Tito, Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppaea, Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, and Strauss’ Elektra.

In 2007, he was appointed as Director of the New York City Opera but left the post before he was due to take office in 2009. He instead began to manage the Teatro Real in Madrid. In 2013 he announced to the press that he had cancer and put forward a list of suggestions for his successor. The institution rejected this list and Mortier was moved from his position as Director to that of Musical Advisor. 

Gerard Mortier died on the 9th of March 2014 after a battle with cancer. Just a few days after his death a prize was created in his honour.