Met Opera Singers' Union Braces for Tough Contract Talks

Wednesday, February 05, 2014 - 01:00 PM

The union representing the singers, dancers and production staff at the Metropolitan Opera is telling its members to expect an “epic battle” in upcoming contract talks.

The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) said on Tuesday evening that it has warned its members that the opera company will lock them out if they don’t accept pay cuts of 10 to 15 percent and other, unspecified work rule changes.

In a sharply worded press release, AGMA executive director Alan Gordon said he is advising singers' agents to "begin to explore other work opportunities for their clients" and to "prepare for the absence of Met income in the fall and winter of 2014, and perhaps even longer." The current contract expires on July 31.

In a response, the Met did not address the predictions of a lockout – which would prevent musicians from working and receiving a paycheck – but cited recent financial difficulties.

"The Met’s primary goal is to safeguard the long-term future of the institution, while maintaining its strength and stability, protecting the livelihood of our employees, and doing all we can to best serve opera lovers," the statement read. "While negotiations have yet to even begin with the unions representing our employees and no proposals have been made, there are significant economic challenges that we face, including a recent decline in ticket sales – an unfortunate situation that we share with other opera companies across the nation."

The Met’s box office dropped off somewhat in 2013, to $93 million from the previous year’s $99 million, according to a financial-disclosure statement that the New York Times and Wall Street Journal recently examined. Attendance fell from 84 percent to 79 percent capacity, lower than previous projections.

Last month, Met general manager Peter Gelb also said he will take over labor negotiations from Joseph Volpe, who has been a lead negotiator for the company. Union officials had welcomed the involvement of Volpe, a former Met carpenter who worked his way up to general manager.

In a letter to union members and their agents, AGMA's Gordon, who is known for his hardball tactics, warned, “Peter Gelb’s removal of Joseph Volpe from the renegotiation of the Met’s contracts, intending instead to negotiate the contracts himself, is a clear and unmistakable forewarning that Gelb wants to restructure labor relations at the Met.”

The union is due to make its first proposal on February 15, with a counter-proposal from the Met due on March 1. The current contract stipulates that negotiations wrap up by June 30, 2014.

Update, 7 pm: The contract with the Met Orchestra, which is governed by Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, also expires in July. In an e-mail, the union president Tino Gagliardi said, "Local 802 has a longstanding bargaining history with the Met and I look forward to negotiating a fair agreement for the musicians."


More in:

Comments [19]

Matt Capell


Jul. 15 2014 11:09 AM

As a former CT resident in Brookfield, I was able to get into NY to attend the Met. Living in Florida, I now enjoy the HD showings at my favorite theater. I agree with the person that said there should be a blackout of theater showings within any distance for a reasonable shot of attending in person. I also agree with those who said Gelb should go. If he were a ballplayer and batting as low as he has, he'd be put out to pasture! It is sad that the audiences are older, but putting on outrageous, questionably good operas and poor performances are not the answer. The Met has a couple of centuries of enough operas to choose from without going crazy for the advant garde. I try, whevever I visit up north to coincide with attendance of at least one performance at the Met; however, I wouldn't go see a less than spectacularly successful "new" work. The Met need only look what happened at The NYC Opera to learn a few lessons. I certainly consider it a travesty if the Met were to close.

Feb. 11 2014 01:04 PM
Floria from NYC

Why is it that the CEO's and heads of corporations and organizations are the last to have their pay reduced? NYCity Opera, AIG, BOM, just to name a few, kept their directors on board, rewarding them with salary and bonuses or golden parachutes, while the underlings...singers, stage hands, tellers, accountants, etc. got the pink slip before any action occurred!

Feb. 11 2014 12:56 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Having live performances shown at theatres sounds like a good idea. The price of a movie with good seats is certainly more comfortable than the opera house. Also having a season with younger singers rather than the super stars also sounds like a good idea now that we no longer have City Opera. I am very pleased with the opera dvds I have purchased. Some of the comments posted seem to be very promising. Still think that Peter Gelb needs to go.

Feb. 11 2014 07:00 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Whatever the outcome of the negotiations between AGMA and the MET OPERA management, the performers,both singers and the orchestra, will lose confidence in earning an income sufficient to guarantee their continuance at the MET. I have been a member of AGMA, ACTORS EQUITY and AGVA from my early days as a performer. The unions do not today have the leadership nor widespread puissance of old. I like to be optimistic, but rationality in the case of the goings on of the theater world nowadays seem to preclude a sensible accommodation on all sides. I am performing and recording onto DVDs "The 300 Greatest Love Songs of Broadway Musicals, the Movies and the Grammys." Their release is upcoming soon. I am a Wagnerian romantischer heldentenor. I will sing the four song cycles that are most often performed in their orchestral garb:the complete Wagner's "Wesendonck Lieder," the complete Mahler's "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen," the tenor's music in Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" and Waldemar's music in Schoenberg's "Gurre-Lieder" at the New Life Expo at the Hotel Pennsylvania in NYC on Saturday March 22nd at 6 PM. I have sung four three-hour-long solo concerts, the last two ALL-WAGNER concerts, in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall including programming the Wagner and the first named Mahler song cycle. One may hear my singing LIVE from the main hall, the Isaac Stern Auditorium of CARNEGIE HALL, from my four three-hour-long solo concerts by downloading, FREE, 37 out of the nearly 100 selections that I have sung there by going to RECORDED SELECTIONS on my websites, and

Feb. 06 2014 09:27 PM
Brunnhilde from NYC

1. The Met failed to nurture it young audiences and young singers. Big prizes for new singers only helps a few new about spreading that money by not only staging a "Cast B" of up and coming singers and at the same time charging affordable ticket prices for people who can't afford it???
2. The hideous productions in the name of "modernity" and updating has proved fatal! One hideous production with 8 performances of the same cast will not bring opera lovers or newbies to the opera and heavens .... attend more than one performance???? I don't think so. There are 2 Tosca productions and many Tosca sopranos....why not vary the productions and casts????....just for starters.

A good GM is someone who can figure these things out.

Feb. 06 2014 01:51 PM
Anne from New York City

MetOpera: " While negotiations have yet to even begin with the unions representing our employees and no proposals have been made..."

AGMA: "...expect an “epic battle” in upcoming contract talks..." "the opera company will lock them out if they don’t accept pay cuts of 10 to 15 percent and other, unspecified work rule changes."

I guess AGMA is firing the first shots in this war. Shame on you, AGMA leadership. I'm thankful that I'm represented by a different performers' union.

Feb. 06 2014 01:30 PM
Pete from Indiana

Every time a single seat goes empty it is the fault of the opera house management and not the grim reaper. Here is the big news. You need young people to go to operas. Many would actually like to do something novel on a date and the opera could be it. You have simply priced them out of the market. Find ways to get them back in. The reality is that you can't fill the house with rich people. But those empty seats could go to young people.

The Cleveland Orchestra has figured this out and let me tell you their concerts are often packed. As a fifty year old I can tell you that those kids change the experience of a concert. Cleveland has a marketing staff that uses social media to it's max and they have representatives at every local college campus to help drum up the business. They then use special pricing to get the kids in.

Those empty seats simply say we haven't tried hard enough.

Feb. 06 2014 12:07 PM
David from Flushing

To Elliot from Jamaica: In my experience, those who attend the HD showings are noticeably older than those I see at the opera house. The accessibility of adjacent free parking lots makes it possible for them to attend at all. I doubt that many could make it into Manhattan if these showings were eliminated.

Frankly, I find our local movie theater more comfortable than the opera house. There is considerably more leg room and the seats are wider. There is also not the problem of someone's head blocking your view with stadium seating. Perhaps the sound is not equal to a live performance, but the stage view is far superior.

Feb. 06 2014 11:38 AM

I'm sure that a disruption in the 2014-15 season will help fill seats … NOT!!

Feb. 06 2014 10:21 AM
tritter from nyc

why we are to pay attention to alan gordon remains a mystery. when nycopera was in its death throes, he was still insisting that agma members be paid as if they were full-time employees, and, tellingly, he still remains willfully ignorant of the legal difference between a manager and an agent, though the new york statute governing such status is more than four decades old.


Feb. 06 2014 09:54 AM
Elliot Katz from Jamaica New York

The Met needs to address declining attendance and the answer is not Live in HD. Cutting expenses rarely compensates enough for declining revenue. The fact that Live in HD showings in the metropolitan area(no pun intended) are sold out and performances of the same opera with the same cast have empty seats in the house shows that something is wrong. The NFL prohibits televising a game if it is not sold out a few days before the game. Maybe the Met has to adopt some sort of rule for Live in HD in the metropolitan area and convert some of the movie theater goers back to live attendees. It is truly a better experience and the Met is the best day in day out opera in the world.

Feb. 06 2014 09:25 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

I do believe it is time for Gelb and his crappy productions to go.

Feb. 06 2014 09:00 AM
Shelly from NJ

Peter Gelb now wants performing artists to take a paycut because of his poor decisions. He is in over his head artistically and otherwise and has been from inception. Real leadership would be his announcement that he will work for one dollar a year before he cuts a single dollar from the paycheck and benefits of any performing artist at the Met. (Don't hold your breath.) It's up to the Board of Directors to tell him to do so or to withhold donations if he doesn't. If they don't, we the audience will. I would sooner see a shut down of the Met until Gelb leaves or capitulates than to have performing artists so threatened and abused.

Feb. 06 2014 08:28 AM
John from NJ

It's an interesting prospect that Mr. Gelb, a man of no experience prior to taking the job of MET GM, no college degree and no law degree feels able to deal with serious unions. He has been over his head since the day he took the job, his batting average on the stage is poor and butts in seats deliver the news. The one thing they have not told you is that the numbers have been in decline since the day he took the job, not just last year. Further, he has robbed the opera pension fund and not repaid it. Mr. Gelb's ego is frightening here for opera lovers everywhere, he's simply not qualified, same as he was not qualified to be the General Manager at the Metropolitan Opera. I would expect a shut down, the union played hard ball with the New York City Opera and I would not expect less here.

Feb. 06 2014 07:45 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

After reading this, it seems some very ill winds are blowing. I'm among the multitudes hoping that diplomacy and rationality will be the order of the day. One hopes the Captain will do all to save the Ship; and if asking Mr. Volpe to be a part of the negotiations will do so, one hopes he won't be excluded. I know nothing more than what was revealed in this article and I have no axe to grind on either side. I'm merely a lover of classical music and opera.

Feb. 06 2014 03:56 AM
David from Flushing

Even if Met productions were nice to look at and the soloists excellent, the company would be facing an audience decline of perhaps 6% a year due to the grim reaper. The demographics of classical music audiences can no longer be ignored.

Feb. 05 2014 07:33 PM
D. Walczak from Illinois

It saddens me to see orchestras and beloved musical institutions nationwide collapse under the weight of bottom line thinking. The musicians and stagehands associated with these venues all bring highly developed skills, craft and expertise to their trades. These problems strike me as more a matter of lackluster development and stagnant operating models. And while Lean Staffing may be appropriate for certain sectors of industry, the arts require an entirely different process for mastery. The Met may need to revisit its mission statement and consider how this may impact current and future audiences.

Feb. 05 2014 05:55 PM
Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

There have been both good and bad developments in recent contract negotiations.Hopefully,the AGMA negotiators will use the compromise-savvy settlement by the NY Phil as a model,rather than the circus that surrounded the Minnesota Orchestra,or the extortionate demands of the stagehands union.

Feb. 05 2014 03:21 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Follow WQXR 







About Operavore

Operavore is WQXR's digital 24/7 audio stream and devoted to Opera. The Operavore blog features breaking news, expert commentary and reviews by writers Fred Plotkin, David Patrick Stearns and others. The music stream features a continuous, carefully programmed mix of classic and contemporary opera recordings.

Follow Operavore