The Fate of Met Opera’s Fall Season Lies in the Orchestra Pit

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When the Metropolitan Opera’s stagehands finally returned to work last week after a painfully long leave after a seven-month lockout while negotiating a new contract with pay cuts, they found a time capsule behind the scenes.

The wings were filled with massive sets of operas in rotation when the pandemic forced the Met to abruptly close its doors on March 12, 2020: “Der Fliegende Holländer,” “Werther,” and “La Cenerentola.” It was scheduled to open that night. All of them had to be moved and put into storage before the company could begin preparing to reopen in September after a long shutdown.

The stagehands returned after reaching an agreement in a dramatic all-night bargaining session earlier this month in the List Hall, the small auditorium where the Opera Quiz was held during the Met’s Saturday matinee radio broadcasts. The management and representatives of the stagehands union, Local One from the International Alliance of Theater Workers – all of whom needed to be vaccinated to attend the negotiating sessions – talked through the night and closed the deal with a 7am handshake.

“We were coming on the phone,” said James J. Claffey Jr., president of Local One. “Had the talks lasted longer, it would have been impossible to prepare the opera house for the September opening,” he said.

The deal with the troupe, which represents the Met’s choir, soloists, dancers, actors, and stage managers, with stage hands following the deal in May raises the possibility of a timely reopening after one of the Met’s biggest concerts. trial periods in history. But there is one major hurdle: The company has yet to come to an agreement on the pay cuts it wants from the musicians in its orchestra, which has been unpaid for nearly a year after it closed.

“The Met has a simple decision to make,” said Adam Krauthamer, chairman of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, which began negotiations with the opera company more than three months ago. “Do they want to continue to have a world-class orchestra? If so, they will need to invest accordingly.”

Saying that he lost $150 million in revenue earned during the pandemic and worried that it might take some time for box office revenues to return to pre-pandemic levels, the Met said that in turn, it should cut the salaries of its employees. Survive. Peter Gelb, the Met’s chief executive, initially sought to cut payroll costs for the highest-paid unions by 30 percent, and said the company would effectively cut the take-home pay by 20 percent. (Last week, the Met learned it would take $10 million from the company. Indoor Operators Grant programexpected support from the federal government, which was delayed due to bureaucratic setbacks.)

The first of the Met’s three major unions to agree on a new contract was the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents choir members, soloists, dancers, and stage managers, among others. pay cuts fell too short The management proposal — under the deal, most types of employees will initially see a 3.7 percent cut in their pay — but the deal saves a significant amount of money by moving members to the union’s health insurance plan and reducing the size of a full-time regular salary. Choir.

Details of the deal with Local One — including how long and permanent the pay cuts will be and whether there will be changes to work rules or other cost savings — won’t be announced until July 18, when union members will vote on whether to vote. confirm.

In the absence of stagehands, the opera house fell into disrepair. Some of the wheels on the wagons pulling the embankments and scenery had gone flat. The hydraulic system required serious maintenance. At one point during the shutdown, two landscape floors fell to the ground.

According to a letter from the agency to the Met, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has received a report of mold on the floor of the orchestra pit, as well as a notification that funds have fallen. The Met said it was responding to the government investigation and the case was closed; He denied that there was mold in the orchestra pit.

The company typically spends the summer preparing for the new season by technically rehearsing new productions and increasing the pressure to reach a deal with their stage hands.

But successful negotiations did not completely prevent the delay and cancellation. The Met’s technical rehearsals should be shifted from the beginning of August to the end of the month as stagehands start working later than usual; As a result, the Met has decided to cancel one of its fall season operas, “Iphigénie en Tauride,” which is expected to run from September 29 to October 15. The season is scheduled to open with “Turn the Fire In My Bones” on September 27, when the Met performs an opera for the first time. By a black composer.

“We are pleased that our stage staff will now return to work immediately and we have a clearer path to open our season on schedule in September,” the Met said in a statement. said.

The agreement with the American Guild of Musical Artists will likely set the pattern for cost savings with other unions. Part of the guild’s agreement included a provision that the guild would get the money back if other unions made agreements that would save the Met proportionally less than the guild’s agreement. That means the Met’s negotiators will feel limited in how much they can offer other unions.

Still, not all guild members are happy with the deal. The soloists, who would see their salaries cut at a significantly higher rate, voted largely against the plan, but their opposition was not enough to avoid approval.

Performers are pressured to get back to work as soon as possible, while musicians have more breathing room. At the heart of these negotiations is the battle to preserve the rules of operation that musicians have fought for decades. The relationship between the company and union members was tested during the pandemic, when players were left without a salary for nearly a year and some had to leave the New York City area to save money or consider selling their prized instruments.

If the Met, which works with 15 unions, can make deals with the three big locals, it will have a clear path to reopening on schedule, but more negotiations will likely be required. Unions representing landscape artists and box office workers also have contracts for negotiation.

United Scenic Artists’ national business representative for Local 829, Carl Mulert, said negotiations will begin in a tense place as some union members outsource their work abroad and across the country as a result of the Met’s stage lockout. .

“The Met has alienated people so much and angered the people who have dedicated their lives to this organization that it will be even harder to make a deal,” he said. “The goodwill we could have had eight months ago is gone.”

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