Just How Deep are the Proposed Pay Cuts at City Opera?

Monday, January 09, 2012 - 05:50 PM

New York City Opera's musicians say that the cash-strapped company is asking for pay cuts of up to 90 percent, which would reduce their salary from $40,000 per year to approximately $4,900. The company counters that the musicians would actually earn $11,855 under their proposed contract.

The competing numbers emerged during the increasingly contentious negotiations that have taken place in recent months and finally broke down on Sunday with the company declaring a lockout

So how deep are the proposed pay cuts?

$5,000 is, in fact, the proposed minimum pay based on the fact that not every production will involve all of the musicians, whether because the score doesn’t require a full orchestra, the theater doesn’t have enough space, or a combination thereof. For example, in May, the company will present Telemann's small-scale opera Orpheus at the Museo Del Barrio, where the theater pit can accommodate only about 25 instrumentalists.

But a musician who does perform in all of the services City Opera presents in a given season would stand to earn approximately $10,000 (or $11,855, according to management figures). That would presumably include first-chair string players and other key members. Still, it is a significant drop from the past, when the company presented 12 to 16 operas per season and every musician was guaranteed 26 weeks of work.

Under the current contract, orchestra players earn $1,725 for a week that consists of five performances or twenty hours of rehearsal. Over the course of a year, this can total at least $40,000. City Opera maintains that it can no longer afford to employ the musicians at this rate, and is looking to pay them instead as freelancers on a "per service" basis.

Gail Kruvand, a double bassist and leader of the players’ negotiating committee, said that it's difficult to know who will earn most under this proposal. “Because [the musicians] are not named it’s hard to know who would be working in all productions,” she said. “We don’t control the repertoire or venue, of course.”

Before the lockout, chorus rehearsals were scheduled to start on Monday for a Feb. 12 opening production of Verdi's La Traviata.

21 Musicians Leave Orchestra

On Monday, another wrinkle emerged in the labor dispute. Since the 2009, 21 members of New York City Opera’s orchestra have retired or resigned, including the principal cellist, assistant principal second violinist and several other prominent members.

The figures were provided to WQXR by Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, which represents the orchestra. The union's spokesperson declined to elaborate on who has left the orchestra but he acknowledged that some were at or near retirement age. The losses are nonetheless a sign of the toll from the labor dispute, and a reminder that the longer it continues, the greater the chance that musicians will leave.

“We lost the viola section essentially, plus two members of the cello section including principal cello,” said Kruvand. “People need this money and they decided it wasn’t worth their effort.”

No members of the chorus have left, although Alan Gordon, president of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), said that many of them would take a severance buyout if it was offered.

With additional reporting from Annmarie Fertoli.

Correction: the numbers regarding weekly income have been updated to reflect the most recent contract details.


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Comments [14]

Michael Meltzer

Pardon my slip, that's "Trumps."

Jan. 12 2012 03:07 AM
Michael Meltzer

There are industries tht flourish from New York being the international cultural icon that it is, most notably the comercial real estate industry.
It is time for the Trukmps, Hovnanians and colleagues to step forward with an interest in protecting the aura that crowns their investments.
Hong Kong is waiting in the wings.

Jan. 12 2012 03:03 AM
david stern

It's simply unimaginable that anyone would consider $40,000 a year a liveable wage. Am I reading it correctly, or perhaps I simply don't understand? I would imagine the musicians could do better standing on the corner with an open instrument case! Where are all the wealthy patrons these days? A pity!!!!!!

Jan. 11 2012 11:32 PM

I think the reason for lack of aid from the state or city is a lack of confidence in the current administration and board. LA offered a loan to the LA opera company...because they thought it was a good investment.

Jan. 11 2012 04:26 PM

True- but sports and circuses are money making businesses in what is suppose to be a "free enterprise" system. The arts generally don't make money unless they're turned into a kind of three-ring circus (like the three tenors).

City Opera's European equivalents survive, because they get government support and are not expected to do the impossible.

If government supported the arts, more people could and would attend. Cost especially in these recessionary times is a significant factor.

Jan. 11 2012 03:57 PM
David from Flushing

"Bread and circuses" has been with us for some time now. People wanted new sports stadiums and that is what they got. If you gave the people a choice between a free rock concert in the park or a free opera, guess which one they would choose.

There are some cities where the local orchestra was viewed as not reflecting the local culture and funding diverted to more popular music forms. It is difficult to tell taxpayers they should support something they do not care to hear. In Europe there is a tradition of royal patronage of the arts that has outlived the royals. American, however, never really got into this mode.

Getting back to City Opera, I am amazed that a 600 seat hall could support a professional performance. Philadelphia's Kimmel Center has a problem with its Perelman Theater as it is deemed too small at 650 seats to break even.

Jan. 11 2012 11:48 AM

@Danny - the page for our Showdown at High Noon is at the top of the web site, called "Joshua Bell's 'French Connection.'" There you'll find a module at which you can click to vote for your favorite of the three pieces.
Thanks for listening!

Jan. 11 2012 10:21 AM
Danny Shanok

Midge: (Or whoever is reading this) I can't find the place on the website to vote for today's noon piece. I'm going out to breakfast (it's past ten) but will be back before noon. Where on the website is the place to vote? I already forgot (I'm 66) what the choices are. Is there a Symphony by saint Saens? If so that's my vote.

Jan. 11 2012 10:11 AM
Fred from Kew Gardens

OOPS- "Their start there"

Jan. 10 2012 05:45 PM
Fred from Kew Gardens

Sad to see "the people's opera" disappear. There were so many memorable performances I saw over the years (and operas rarely done). How many great singers got there start there?

The real problem is expecting the arts to be a profit making business. That approach can never succeed; it's a matter of values. (Bloomberg, as expected, found hundreds of millions of tax dollars to give us two new baseball stadiums.) We pick and choose our socialism.

Jan. 10 2012 05:39 PM
David Nygard from Staten Island

PS 65 in Staten Island will fill in if needed. Sure, they are an elementary school but what they may lack in training they have in ambition!

This is so silly! Why not close if the funding situation is this despirate! The alternative is having a Mayberry quartette.

Jan. 10 2012 03:56 PM
David from Flushing

In the past, "The Enchanted Island" is the sort of thing one would have expected the City Opera to do. Unfortunately, the Met has taken the City's thunder leaving the City with little to offer the public.

It is not only the musicians that are seeking trust from management, but the subscribers as well. I suspect many are leery of purchasing tickets for a potential Titanic.

Our present economic depression is going to be with us for some time. That coupled with the decline of audiences for classical music is a deadly combination for marginal companies and indeed some larger ones as well. We will all miss City Opera when the end comes, but at this point, the end may have been reached.

Jan. 10 2012 02:47 PM
Michael Meltzer

In order for the musicians to even consider accepting a role as "freelancers," management would hsve to enjoy an enormous amount of their trust.
Need any more be said?

Jan. 10 2012 03:29 AM
Scott Rose from Manhattan

Gérard Klein said « L'actualité n'est souvent qu'un cauchemar manquant d'imagination. » roughly meaning, "Sometimes, the news is just a nightmare situation in want of an imaginative solution."

That surely is the case for the New York City Opera. It appears clear that Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg have not had sufficiently impressed on them what is being lost. New York City's national and international performing arts prestige is being sacrificed in umpteen manners with the tragic spectacle of the demise of the New York City Opera. There is enough money around generally to reverse this -- the appeals simply have not been made in the right ways to the right people. It's really shocking, and profoundly disturbing.

Jan. 09 2012 06:23 PM

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