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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Showdown at the Gates of Hades

City Opera's Orpheus threatened by union protest. 
by Paul Pelkonen
Strikebreaker Abraham "Grampa" Simpson describes a trip to Shelbyville.
Image from The Simpsons episode Last Exit to Springfield © 1992 Gracie Films/20th Century Fox.
The New York City Opera is having trouble with unions again. 

However, while the cash-strapped opera company has drawn fire from unions for its hard-nosed tactics in the past year, this protest is not directed directly at City Opera. The conflict is between El Museo del Barrio and members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local One.

A report in the Wall Street Journal  stated that union officials are counting on a visible picket outside the opera company's new production of Georg Philipp Telemann's Orpheus to open a dialogue between representatives from El Museo and from Local One. The opera is being performed at El Teatro, a jewel box theater usually reserved for lectures and discussion panels. The union's labor leaders want the Upper East Side arts venue to become unionized.

The Journal stated that the union is planning to picket the museum starting Monday, to prevent the loading in of lights and equipment by non-union personnel. Rehearsals for Orpheus are scheduled to begin this week.

Members of the City Opera's two unions: the American Guild of Musical Artists (representing the chorus) and the American Federated Musicians Local 802 (the orchestra) would have to cross the Local One picket lines in order to participate in rehearsals and performances. Audience members would also have to cross the picket lines starting May 12.

Earlier this year, the City Opera season was almost cancelled due to breakdowns in labor negotiations for new contracts with these two unions. Eventually, the opera company emerged the victor when musicians and choristers conceded pay and benefit reductions of approximately 80%.

The pickets are planned to continue through City Opera's four performances of Orpheus, a German baroque version of the Greek myth that has never been performed in New York before. This is the fourth and final production of the City Opera's truncated 2012 opera season, following La Traviata and Prima Donna at BAM and a run of Così fan tutte at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater.

The Journal article also mentions that Local One asked City Opera to open channels of communication with the management of El Museo de Barrio with view to beginning negotiations between the union and museum. City Opera declined.

Orpheus opens on May 12.

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