Breaking: The Fight Continues At The MET Opera

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 | 5:51:00 pm

Starving Artists on the stage of the MET. La boheme
The battle, at least of words, continues  in New York over proposed cuts of 26% to the salaries of the MET Orchestra and Chorus. But this time not between Orchestra and Gelb but the Orchestra V The New York Times.

Monday saw the NYT run an editorial titled, The Real Drama at the Met: Labor (sic) Talks Turn Bitter at Metropolitan Opera. In this, they have suggested that the present economic situation at the MET is unworkable. In general they seem to take their lead from Gelb's statements about the situation. They note:

"...both sides should compromise on real cuts. For the unions, this means accepting changes in benefits and work rules. Management will have to cut salaries and expenses just as rigorously."

They hey cite data that has previously been provided by Gelb in support of this arguement. This includes:

"...average earnings for the chorus and orchestra running about $200,000 a year."

"$85,000 in benefits"

"16 weeks off with pay".

However, the MET Orchestra has responded that these figures are neither accurate or reflective of reality (It should be noted that in the MET Orchestra's recent report they note a salary of around  $164, 000 ("Furthermore, the actual proposals with which we have been presented reflect a cut in our annual earnings of between $41,000 to $62,000 (25.2% to a worse-case scenario of 37.55%. See here). Their response is"  below.

What do you think?

Statement from the Musicians of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Regarding Today’s New York Times Editorial
NEW YORK, NY—Monday, June 23, 2014—The MET Orchestra Musicians and Local 802, American Federation of Musicians, are deeply concerned about the future of the Metropolitan Opera.
Regarding today's editorial in the New York Times, The MET Orchestra would like to clarify a few important points:
  • The Met musicians are paid a competitive contract, a yearly salary that is commensurate with attracting and retaining the best players in the world. The musicians in fact do not have 16 weeks of vacation. Their guaranteed time off is equivalent to that of their peer orchestras (10 weeks), and is in part due to the recognition that they are at the disposal of the Met to perform 6 days a week during the season. Unutilized weeks are due to Peter Gelb's unpopular and counter-productive decision to end the beloved weeks of free summer concerts in New York City’s parks, which musicians still wish to play (and besides being a wonderful amenity for New Yorkers and visitors are a proven vehicle to expand the opera audience), as well as Gelb’s termination of the practice of touring, which has been a part of the Met season since its inception and also develops tourist audiences for the Met

  • Peter Gelb insists on citing an average salary number for musicians that has not been substantiated. The musicians and their legal team have been asking for months for the Met to provide figures showing where they are getting this average salary number, as well as the amount of stated benefits, but the Met has not provided it. We do not know if the Met provided proof to the Times, and we respectfully request that any press covering these matters ask Gelb for documentation to support this disputed figure. Furthermore, we ask that the press consider citing the median salary for the musicians, as this would more accurately represent what most musicians at the Met are paid – if you can get the data from management!

  • It is true, as the New York Times states, that The Met cannot continue on its present fiscal course. However, it is relevant to note that over Gelb's tenure the cost of musician labor has risen only modestly (slightly above inflation), while the non-labor budget increased by 50% ($105 Million). As the musicians pointed out in their report to the Met Opera Board the revivals of Peter Gelb's new productions, which have sold dismally, are pulling revenues down. In fact, when other opera houses around the world are thriving, there has been a 13% drop at the Met box office on Peter Gelb’s watch.

  • Given that last year the Met reported a $2.8 Million dollar deficit why does Gelb claim he needs $30 million in cuts (16%) to performers who are already being paid less than musicians in several other U.S. orchestras, in some cases in absolute dollars or, when calculating the cost-of-living to compensation ratio, less than their counterparts at most peer orchestras? Also, importantly, research conducted by the Orchestra indicates that the various cuts that Gelb has proposed actually constitute a reduction in compensation much greater than 16%, but in fact would constitute a 25-37% reduction in compensation.