Metropolitan Opera Contract Talks Begin, Con Forza

Monday, May 05, 2014 - 06:00 PM

Contract talks between the Metropolitan Opera and the union representing the company's singers, dancers and stage managers got off to a markedly tempestuous start on Monday.

The opera company, which is seeking cuts in labor costs for the first time in decades, made a case for concessions, citing declining ticket sales, rising expenses and a shrinking endowment. General manager Peter Gelb said in a memo to staff on Saturday, "We face the biggest economic challenge in the company’s history."

Noting that union costs account for two-thirds of the Met's budget, he added, "we have to make an adjustment to ensure the future sustainability of our company. We must act now before it is too late."

The union, whose contract will expire on July 31, argued that the pay cuts would put an inordinate strain on the musicians, and it charged that the company has spent recklessly on productions and in other areas.

Monday's talks almost didn't happen. The union invited some reporters to attend the negotiation session, which, according to the New York Times, led the Met to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board arguing that having media present "would stifle the atmosphere of free and open discussion that is needed for good-faith collective bargaining."

When the Met's lawyer's arrived at the session, reporters were asked to leave.

The Met is proposing compensation cuts of 16 to 17 percent, through work-rule changes and a higher-deductible health plan. It would include an annual in-network deductible of $4,000 for a family.

The union is seeking oversight into the company's expenses, for what members see as overspending on the scale and number of new productions. A proposed "waste management" committee would involve the company's three largest unions (the orchestra, stagehands and singers). It is also asking for a blackout of HD broadcasts in the New York area.

Alan Gordon, the executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), said in a phone interview Tuesday that nothing was accomplished in Monday's negotiation session. "Everybody knew that yesterday would accomplish nothing," he said. "Gelb admitted that his new business plan was nothing less than spend less and earn more. That's not a business plan."

The Met's operating budget grew to $327 million last year, up from $222 million in 2006, when Gelb took the helm.

There are no further talks scheduled at the present time.

Updated May 6 at 6 pm

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Comments [8]

concetta nardone from Nassau

Gelb has got to go. That disgusting production of Tosca was reason enough. What an ego. Could not watch the recent tv broadcast with Patricia Racette(?) even though she is a very graceful, simpatica singer. The Scarpia was entirely too brutish. I have a dvd with Leo Nucci as well as the Tosca filmed in Rome with Domingo. The Met is losing a lot of money and I can understand why.

May. 07 2014 10:13 AM
Thomas Newby from Flushing, New York

I worked for seven years at the Met, and I witnessed the lavish spending of other people's money. The Met could easily fill it's seats by using those wonderful Zeffirelli productions of FALSTAFF, CAV and PAG, and TOSCA. They have a habit of replacing great productions with garbage, and that is one of the reasons that people no longer go to the Met. The other reason is the awful casting decisions of people like Billinghurst and Gelb, coupled with their horrible choice of repertory. It's lovely that the Met has presented more modern operas, but who wants to see them? Corelli, Tebaldi, Nilsson, and Price could fill that house using the old Fox TOSCA. If the Met returned to the successes of the past, they would guarantee the future.

May. 06 2014 05:13 PM

Unions to audience members: "Go away, we don't care about you." Who do they think is paying their members, the Tooth Fairy?

May. 06 2014 01:33 PM
Kate from New York

The HD broadcasts are a great way to reach out to New York audiences who can't afford to go to Lincoln Center or might still be feeling too intimidated to go. However, the other proposals by the union sound completely fair to me. Gelb gets points for ambition, but to ask for labor cuts because of that disastrous Ring Cycle and other expensive productions, is not the way to handle financial difficulties. This waste management committee sounds like a good idea.

May. 06 2014 01:05 PM
Lincoln

Hey Met Unions
How about waking up and recognizing that $4000 deductible per family is pretty much the norm for healthcare these days. And, why on earth would you blackout NYC HD broadcasts? They are you're best marketing arm for people to actually come to the house. If you want a different % of the rev split with Uncle Peter you may have some ground there but blacking out - as many studies have shown via the NFL and NBA - does absolutely nothing for in house attendance. Someone should let the Union negotiators out of the 1950s for a few minutes before they get back in the room with the Management. While they are at it the should actually let DeBlasio out of that time warp too.

May. 06 2014 10:08 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Though I am not completely homebound, I cannot attend live operas. I used to go to city opera as it was affordable and I liked the young singers. Thank God for dvds of the operas I love and I am regularly gifted by my family. Also, cds are a joy. Unfortunately, too much stuff in my house. My daughter in law, my son's English rose, is becoming more and more interested in classical music. Therefore, I know who to leave this great music to when I leave this Valley of Tears. Do hope the Met and the union work out a deal. If for some reason, there are no broadcasts next season, I will have no outlook for my snarky remarks.

May. 06 2014 07:32 AM
Joe Mack from Pennsylvania

When younger I went to the Met, but now find it too difficult and too expensive, so I go to a nearby theater to watch it in HD. I love it. One thing I fault Met management on is their emphasis on opulent sets; they must cost a fortune. To me what really counts are two things: a great story and a great cast of singers. Overly opulent sets can be a distraction. One of the great benefits of HD is the camera's focus on the singers, even if you see a hair out of place, a double-chin or a blemish or two. It cements the bond. I've seen great operas, great plays done before painted backdrops. Would that the Met would weigh such factors when balancing the various forces fighting for the money.

May. 05 2014 11:59 PM
David from Flushing

In my experience, the HD broadcast audience is the oldest of the old who very likely could not attend a performance in Manhattan. Having a blackout would likely not increase the opera house audience. Of course, the opera house experience does not include close ups. Our local theater has wider seats and far more legroom than Lincoln Center.

May. 05 2014 08:03 PM

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