Thursday’s “Boheme” matinee and Saturday’s “Idomeneo” opener cancelled; no talks between Lyric Opera and musicians until Friday

Tue Oct 09, 2018 at 3:40 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

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

Thursday’s matinee performance of Puccini’s La Boheme and Saturday’s opening performance of Mozart’s Idomeneo at Lyric Opera have both been cancelled, Chicago Classical Review has learned, due to the strike by orchestra musicians.

Also cancelled are Tuesday night’s “Lyric Uncorked” event, “Choir! Choir! Choir!” on Friday and Saturday’s “Chicago Open House” as well as all backstage tours until further notice.

The two sides have dug in and there are no talks planned until Friday the earliest, a source said. It is up in the air at this point whether Sunday’s Boheme matinee will take place as well.

The musicians union and Lyric Opera exchanged charges earlier Tuesday following this morning’s strike action by members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

The Lyric Opera called the strike by the orchestra musicians “unnecessary and harmful,” and apologized for the losses and inconveniences the strike is casing for patrons, donors and employees,.

The unsigned company statement seemed to indicate that Lyric is prepared for a long siege with the Chicago Federation of Musicians, the union for the Lyric Opera Orchestra. It defended the company’s labor cuts and said the “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 appeared to draw a line in the sand against what they view 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 musician 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 large $24 million increase in the Lyric budget is going.

Taking aim at Freud, the statement claims that the general director’s total compensation increased 18% from 2014 to over $800,000 in 2017; it further claims that Freud’s 16% pay 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 under past general directors and compared them with Freud and current company 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 with CCR for strike updates.

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4 Responses to “Thursday’s “Boheme” matinee and Saturday’s “Idomeneo” opener cancelled; no talks between Lyric Opera and musicians until Friday”

  1. Posted Oct 09, 2018 at 4:17 pm by Jane Smith

    As a longtime Lyric patron (subscriber and donor), I find the administration’s position extremely upsetting. Logic dictates that if weeks are being cut and broadcasts eliminated, it’s mathematically impossible for the musicians to be paid more (certainly not in the way Anthony Freud’s salary has been raised 18% to $800,000). This orchestra was nominated as the best opera orchestra in the world just a few months ago. It is not an average orchestra. An arts organization that cannot find ways to cut costs apart from sacrificing artistic excellence runs the risk of becoming a very average organization. Congratulations to the Lyric Opera Orchestra for standing up for artistic excellence. I support you.

  2. Posted Oct 09, 2018 at 7:23 pm by Anne-Marie

    Like Jane I’ve been a subscriber and donor for close to 25 years and agree with her comments. World-class musicians should be treated with due respect and consideration.

    Perhaps Mr. Freud should volunteer to take a pay cut to help Lyric’s financial situation instead of squeezing the musicians! CEOs in public corporations have been known to do this or forego their salary when the company is going through tough times. In the last few years Lyric hasn’t exactly been bringing in the highest paid singers for its productions and, as noted by many, roles have been filled by Ryan Opera Center students. There’s substantial cost-cutting and savings in that approach evidently.

    It would be a great loss to Chicago’s rich cultural and artistic standing if Lyric Opera’s Management throws our beloved institution down the Chicago River!

  3. Posted Oct 10, 2018 at 12:07 am by Fact Checker

    Mr. Anthony Freud’s salary (CEO), Sir Andrew Davis’s $1.6 million salary to conduct so few performances, Roberta Lane (CFO), $300k salary and huge increases in pay is all public record. A good reporter needs to do little digging to see these are not just claims the orchestra are making, they are facts. These are all found for free on the internet by looking up the companies 990 forms and the Lyric’s financial statements the provide on the website.

    Another fact is, I believe from what I hear that the other unions, at least AGMA, has NOT ratified their agreement yet because it is a longer process. One can see the spin to rail employees against other employees to play off one another. I would have to imagine all this would constitute as a hostile work environment to say the least.

    Lastly, the other fact Lyric doesn’t want the public to know that they are more interested in renting the theater for revenue than they are producing opera. When they cut performances as much as they have, and when they eventually cut to 5 or 6 operas a year, which I am guessing they will do, then it will no longer have the status of a world class opera house. A major loss to the City of Chicago They will fail to get top singing talent, the tickets will spiral, and then bankruptcy. Hello, New York City Opera??? All the while the rich, keep getting richer on the backs of the product of which they sell, the musicians on the stage and in the pit. Where is the accountability? This is why I support the Lyric Orchestra in order to preserve OPERA.

  4. Posted Oct 11, 2018 at 1:28 pm by Donald Nathan

    Sadly, the aforementioned comments are all true. It deserves to be mentioned, however, that the Board of Directors, led by David Ormesher, are solidly behind these developments. This includes the wealthiest people in Chicago. Most of these individuals have seen their wealth magnified many times over the last decade; more so than the average musician. This includes members of the Pritzker family (multi billionaires I believe). Both our gubernatorial candidates are billionaires and have put 10’s of millions into their respective campaigns. Perhaps either or both (the governor and mayor are honorary chairmen of LYRIC prominently in the program) could consider actually supporting LYRIC with a very generous donation.

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