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Thursday, January 19, 2012

UPDATE: City Opera Ends Lockout

Orchestra, Chorus to vote on new deal Thursday.
by Paul Pelkonen
UPDATE: The New York City Opera has ratified a deal with its orchestra and chorus, ending a bitter labor dispute that was stymied. A lockout of Musicians' Local 802 and the American Guild of Musical Artists has ended, with both companies making deep concessions in the interest of maintaining the future of the troubled opera company.

The lockout's end was reported by Jennifer Maloney in the Wall Street Journal. The company's ratification was reported on Thursday by Daniel J. Wakin in the New York Times.

According to a Wednesday afternoon report on local news channel New York 1, the contract is for three years. Dan Wakin in the New York Times reported that "core" health care benefits will be included. Orchestra wage details were not released.

Starting in 2013, orchestra members will make a contribution to their health care costs. The deal is subject to a vote by union members and approval by the New York City Opera board of directors.

In a statement, general manager and artistic director George Steel said that the deal will insure the opera's solvency. 

The last decade has seen City Opera in decline, from a vibrant house that produced 13 operas in a two-part "split season" to a pale shadow of its former self. A myriad of problems (chronicled in past posts on this site under the tag "Opera Company Goes Dark") led to this appalling situation.

The spiral started in 2007, with the board's decision to hire Belgian impresario Gerard Mortier as its new general manager. Mr. Mortier's tenure was largely an absentee one, and it ended in 2008 after a budget dispute. That same year, renovations to the former New York State Theater forced the company to go "dark" for an entire season. Since this happened when the chorus and orchestra were still under contract, City Opera was forced to raid its endowment to meet obligations. 

After re-opening the house in 2009, new general manager George Steel reduced the number of operas produced to five and sold the fall season time-slot to the New York City Ballet. In 2011, he removed music director George Manahan. He also cut back on important programs like VOX, the company's initiative to workshop experimental operas by young composers. 

Things came to a head when Mr. Steel moved the opera company out of Lincoln Center, abandoning its home of 45 years. This move took place around the same time that the company's contracts with Musicians Local 802 and the American Guild of Musical Artists expired. Last summer, the City Opera unveiled its plan to make "all of New York" its stage, offering four operas in three different theaters. 

But negotiations with both unions proved contentious. With only 16 performances scheduled, orchestra musicians were offered $4,000, a mere tenth of their former salaries. Matters came to a head when talks broke down, resulting in a lockout that threatened the company's truncated season. 

Rehearsals for season opener La traviata took place today with a piano at an undisclosed location. Orchestra rehearsals for the February 12 premiere are scheduled to begin February 1.

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