Met Opera reaches deal with orchestra, paving way for reopening

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Met Opera reaches deal with orchestra, paving way for reopening
Rehearsals for “The Exterminating Angel,” an opera based on the Luis Buñuel film of the same name, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Oct. 19, 2017. The labor deal means that the company, the largest performing arts organization in the nation, is on track to reopen next month after the pandemic kept it closed for more than a year. Karsten Moran/The New York Times.

by Julia Jacobs

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The Metropolitan Opera has struck a labor deal with its orchestra, officials announced Tuesday, paving the way for its musicians to return to work and for the company, the largest performing arts organization in the nation, to resume performances next month after being shut down for more than a year by the pandemic.

After months of uncertainty and talks that grew contentious at times, the Met said that the players had ratified a labor deal reached with the union representing the orchestra, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. The musicians were scheduled to return to work Monday for their first official rehearsal since the pandemic closed the opera house in March 2020.

The agreement concludes several months of tension over how significant future pay cuts would be for musicians, who went for nearly a year without pay during the pandemic.

“The members of the Met’s great orchestra have been through herculean challenges during the 16 months of the shutdown, as we struggled to keep the company intact,” Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said in a statement. “Now, we look forward to rebuilding and returning to action.”

The group was the last of the three major Met unions to come to an agreement; without a deal on a new contract for the orchestra, the Met would have likely had to postpone its reopening. Several smaller unions have yet to reach deals.

In a joint statement, Adam Krauthamer, president of Local 802, and the members of the Met’s orchestra committee said that they were “thrilled to be returning to regular performances very soon, and look forward to reconnecting with our audiences.”

The four-year deal with the musicians institutes pay cuts of 3.7%, with provisions to begin restoring some of that pay after the Met’s box office revenues return to 90% of their prepandemic levels, according to a copy of the memorandum of understanding that was obtained by The New York Times and confirmed by participants.

A significant amount of the savings in the deal appears to come from reducing the minimum size of the Met’s full-time orchestra to 83 players through attrition, according to the memorandum, down from its current minimum of 90. Many players retired during the pandemic; by not filling all those positions, the Met will save money and rely more on extra players.

In recent years, symphony orchestras around the country have sought to save money by cutting back the number of regular full-time players.

The Met had been seeking deep cuts. Citing staggering revenue losses resulting from the pandemic and uncertainty over when its box office and donations would rebound, the Met had been seeking to cut the payroll costs for its highest-paid unions by 30%, saying that the change in take-home pay would be more like 20%. It had offered to restore half of the cuts when ticket revenues and core donations returned to their prepandemic levels.

The first of the unions to reach an agreement, the American Guild of Musical Artists — which represents chorus members, soloists, dancers and stage managers, among others — secured salary cuts that fell far short of the management proposal; under the agreement, most types of employees in the union will initially see 3.7% cuts to their pay. But that deal saved the Met money by moving the members from the Met’s health insurance plan to the union’s and reducing the size of the full-time regular chorus.

That contract had been expected to set the pattern for the level of savings expected in deals with the other two major unions, which represent the Met’s stagehands and its orchestra. A provision in the guild’s deal stated that if the other unions struck more favorable deals, the guild’s contract would be adjusted to be brought in line with them.

Along with the news of the deal with the orchestra, the Met announced that the orchestra and chorus will give two free performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” in Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center on Sept. 4 and 5. The performances will be conducted by the Met’s music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and feature soprano Ying Fang and mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves as soloists. (The Met also announced a new annual chamber music series of six concerts at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall.)

On Sept. 11, the Met's first performance back at the opera house will feature a special concert of Verdi’s Requiem to mark the 20th anniversary of the attacks. The concert will be broadcast live on PBS and hosted by ballet star Misty Copeland.

The Met’s season is scheduled to open Sept. 27 with Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” the first opera by a Black composer to be mounted by the Met.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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