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New York City Opera Labor Woes: Tensions Ease, Problems Persist

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In a dramatic easing of tensions between New York City Opera and members of the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union has drawn back from earlier plans to strike on April 30 as NYCO approaches the close of the season with a soon-to-expire contract on its hands.

“We had one negotiation with them last week,” commented AGMA executive director Alan Gordon. “Their pitch is they just haven’t had time to deal with their budget and figure out what they can afford to do. But whatever they can afford to do is going to be a drastic change from what has gone on in the past.”

Gordon did not speculate on what that scaled back NYCO would look like, but added the problem boiled down to a very simple point: "They don't have the money," Gordon said.

In the meeting, Gordon described a NYCO that asked the union not to engage in a one-day strike as had been threatened because the move “would only hurt the opera any not give [AGMA] any more leverage.”

Gordon said City Opera's AGMA members, which include soloists, choristers and production staff, were “receptive” to the suggestion.

NYCO has been besieged with broader financial problems of late that have caused the company to postpone announcement of its coming season and conduct a full review of its budgetary planning.

In last week’s negotiating meeting, AGMA members were told they could expect to hear back from New York City Opera in “May or June” regarding their contracts, according to Gordon. “Is it worth trying to help the company survive if it’s not going to really be City Opera anymore?” he asked.

New York City Opera declined to comment for this article. The company's performances of Seance on a Wet Afternoon, the last production of the season, will go on as planned through Sunday.

The American classical music world has grappled in recent months with strikes, stalled negotiations and crippling deficits. While the Detroit Symphony Orchestra managed to secure a tentative agreement in April, ending a bitter six-month strike, in the same month the Philadelphia Orchestra filed for bankruptcy and the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra suddenly dissolved, leaving ticket holders without recourse. New York Attorney General Schneiderman has launched an inquiry into that orchestra's plight.