Charges fly between Lyric Opera and striking musicians as cancelled performances loom

Tue Oct 09, 2018 at 12:27 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Lyric Opera Orchestra members picket outside the opera house Tuesday morning.

The musicians union and Lyric Opera exchanged charges Tuesday, with cancelled performances appearing likely with the morning’s strike action by the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago called the strike by the orchestra musicians “unnecessary and harmful,” adding that cancelled performances may be coming soon.

After apologizing for the losses and inconveniences the strike is casing for patrons, donors and employees, the unsigned company statement appears to dig in for a long siege with the Chicago Federation of Musicians, the union for the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

The company released a statement that their labor cuts and “proposed changes” are “necessary to ensure Lyric’s survival as a world-class opera company providing a diverse range of cultural entertainment to communities throughout Chicago.”

Management states that they offered increased musician wages in exchange for a reduction in season weeks “that better aligns with audience demand and increased scheduling flexibility that will allow us to access additional rental income.” They also state that the other two unions—– the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) – recognized the need for such changes in agreeing to multi-year contracts on Monday.

In a statement by the Lyric Opera Orchestra, the musicians appear to be drawing a line in the sand against what they see as draconian cuts by management that will damage the integrity of the orchestra and the institution.

“Why are we on strike? Because a world-class opera company needs a world-class orchestra. That is now in danger,” reads their press release.

The statement goes on to accuse general director Anthony Freud and Lyric management of “demanding radical cuts that would decimate the Orchestra and forever diminish Lyric Opera.”

Among those cuts is: reducing the size of the orchestra by eliminating five positions; cutting musicians pay by 8%; reducing the season by two weeks from 24 to 22; and eliminating Lyric Opera’s radio broadcasts.

The statement notes that Lyric Opera’s budget “exploded” from $60.4 million in 2012 to $84.5 million in 2017, with the musicians’ share of the budget falling by 2.7% over the same period.

The statement also claims management claims of “donor fatigue” and declining ticket sales are bogus, and asks where the $24 million increase in the Lyric budget is going.

Taking aim at Freud, the statement notes that the company general director’s salary increased 18% from 2014 to 2017 to over $800,000, noting that his 16% jump in 2016 came immediately after the musicians agreed to a cost-neutral contract with cuts to health care.

The statement ends by speaking of Lyric’s distinguished artistic history by past general directors compared with  Freud and current associates.

“Lyric Opera of Chicago is at a crossroads. What kind of opera company does Lyric want to be? Will Lyric fulfill its core mission of presenting great opera to Chicago and the world at the highest level – the vision that Ardis Krainik and other leaders tirelessly pursued, and which inspired generations of Chicagoans? Or will Lyric disregard the work of those leaders, abandon all ambition, and adopt a myopic vision that looks no further than its own balance sheet?

We’re on strike because we will not, and cannot, accept a Lyric Opera of Chicago that is nothing but a pale shadow of its former self. If Anthony Freud and his crew abdicate their responsibility as the stewards of this organization, then the musicians of the Orchestra will gladly take up that cause.”

Check back to CCR for updates.

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3 Responses to “Charges fly between Lyric Opera and striking musicians as cancelled performances loom”

  1. Posted Oct 09, 2018 at 12:42 pm by MWnyc

    Is Lyric actually proposing to eliminate all radio broadcasts? Or is it only proposing to stop paying musicians extra for the right to broadcast performances?

    I could see Lyric arguing (whether one agrees with them or not) that they can’t afford to give musicians extra pay for no extra work (broadcast or no, they still play the performances), but Lyric eliminating radio broadcasts altogether would seem to be shooting itself in the foot.

  2. Posted Oct 09, 2018 at 1:54 pm by Art for Art's Sake

    If the administration is truly cutting the season by two weeks and eliminating all broadcasts, their statement that musicians’ wages will increase is little more than “fake news.” Let’s cut to the chase: the fact that there are 4 performances of Siegfried this year and probably ten times that of the money-making West Side Story makes a strong statement about the direction in which Lyric “Opera” is moving under its current leadership. Congratulations to the Lyric Opera Orchestra for their bravery in standing up for artistic excellence in the city of Chicago.

  3. Posted Oct 11, 2018 at 12:23 pm by John

    Lyric has to deal with the realities of the marketplace. Their audience is ageing and dieing off. The younger generation will choose a rock concert not grand opera.

    West Side Story will put people in the seats. Siegfried will not.

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