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Meet and grate

La Cieca’s spy attended today’s confab between George Steel (representing NYCO) and 29 singers and production personnel (AGMA) and 24 orchestra members (Local 802).

The spy’s observations after the jump.  

AGMA and Local 802 (orchestra) met with NYCO as a unified body, a first in the company’s history.

AGMA and Local 802 gave George Steel a unanimous no-confidence vote. Steel made a short presentation where he tried to make the case that producing traditional works like Butterfly are more costly, and that subscribers wanted non-traditional fare.

NYCO presented a three-page list of performances with no listed soloists, venues, or works, stating that it was going to make an announcement in two weeks…

The orchestra had previously taken a unanimous vote to NOT leave Lincoln Center.

It is unclear if NYCO still has obligations to the David H. Koch Theatre, and if, in fact, they intend to leave Lincoln Center.  As such, there is some concern that NYCO’s announcement may be designed to break the union.

802 and AGMA both agreed that, should the company proceed down its current path, their members will not be allowed to work for NYCO.

AGMA has not received any contracts for soloists.

Steel remarked that future chorus involvement would be “freelance.”

La Cieca has also obtained a memo from Alan Gordon, National Executive Director of AGMA, concerning today’s meeting: [PDF]

112 comments

  • atalaya says:

    I highly encourage those who haven’t done so to read Alan Gordon’s memo -- the PDF linked to the bottom of La Cieca’s post.

    Steel -- presumably with a straight face -- told the very people whose jobs he has helped jeopardize that this past season was “fantastic”. When the orchestra members looked up from the pit this past season and saw row after row of empty seats I somehow doubt “fantastic” was how they would describe it. Rather they knew it was a sign of impending doom for their company.

    The first step in fixing a problem is realizing there is one. Apparently, Steel doesn’t think that there is a problem. 40% (at best) of capacity ticket sales? Fantastic! How absolutely insulting to those in the unions whose jobs he has essentially wiped out.

    There’s a bloomberg story about he wants to cast an opera with two mute roles.
    “Artists Revolt as City Opera Chief Steel Proposes to Cast Mutes”
    http://noir.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=akQ0muQ0nBus

    Interesting concept. Absolutely insane to do it with what was once a premier opera company. At least if he wants the company to become a premier one again. I have to agree with the union head’s quote -- “It’s pretty pathetic what Steel is trying to do to a main-stage opera company.” The union members knows what empty seats mean for them and the company -- even if Steel doesn’t. (It doesn’t mean “fantastic”.)

    There’s a very telling line from the NYT June 15th article:
    “Mr. Steel said the opera has now embraced a scaled-down business model that will liberate it artistically and financially, and lift the burden of filling so many seats.”

    Certainly filling seats is a burden -- particularly the size of Koch theater. A shame that Steel didn’t even try. Volpe, Gelb -- they realize what a huge burden it is running a large opera company. Volpe even titled his autobiography to that effect. There’s a reason that burden of filling so many seats exists. It is a responsibility to the fans, the artists, those that are employed by the organization, and the art itself. I have yet to hear Steel give any indication that the move from Koch is a temporary one while they rebuild NYCO’s finances and hope to return. Most likely because this is clearly something he doesn’t desire. So the question is, why was he given the job in the first place? If he didn’t want to run a large opera company, why did he take the job? An opera theater with $120 million in renovations on perhaps the most celebrated artistic address on the planet -- and out in two years.

    It’s not like Steel has been planning to downsize. He did have two years to work on downsizing if that was the case. Judging by the lack of coherence about 11-12, one would be hard-pressed to say foresight existed.

    I sympathize and support the unions here. I hope they don’t let Steel continue using the NYCO name with his little ad hoc opera company. Really, give him hell guys. What he’s doing is no longer New York City Opera.

    Final quote from Joe Volpe (the June 15 NYTimes article)
    “City Opera’s programming failed to engage its audience because it was dark for a season and then came back with esoteric choices that didn’t suit the people’s opera. If you can’t sell tickets, you can’t raise money.”

    Somebody let Steel know.

  • 98rsd says:

    Here’s a report from the year 2000 on backstage earnings:
    http://articles.nydailynews.com/2000-01-10/news/18133451_1_stagehands-carnegie-hall-lincoln-center

    Here’s one from 2009. Note the tremendous increases:
    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=agzioCanEd0s

    These men may be putting in 200 hours, for all I know, but having union people earning astronomical amounts on overtime is crippling for a non-profit. Why not hire some more people instead? Or do we know the answer?

    • La Cieca says:

      The answer apparently is that more people would cost even more than the what is being paid out in overtime: more people means more health insurance, deferred income put into pension funds, and so forth. And, as the 2000 article points out, presenters seem to prefer having the same personnel work on a performance who worked on the rehearsal; this practice seems to result in a superior product.

      As for all this talk of a non-profit, I’d like to quote a stagehand I worked with on an opera production once: “I looked at this place when I got here and I didn’t see any cross over the door.”

      • kashania says:

        I don’t know how things are in NYC, but in Toronto, most venues are union houses and the option of hiring other people is not there.

        If you need a microphone plugged in so someone can make an announcement from the stage, you need to pay for a minimum four-hour call for a unionised employee to plug that microphone in. A regular staff member (who is not unionised and can only dream of overtime pay!) cannot plug that microphone in.

        The union contracts are designed to maximise overtime pay whenever possible. If the curtain comes down 30 seconds too late, everyone gets paid for an extra unit of time.

        And with all due respect, La Cieca, arts organisations ARE non-profits and even the most financially successful ones are barely able to balance their budgets.

    • scifisci says:

      The salary and operating budget increases are a little bit ridiculous. I wonder what the cause is? The various tech and finance bubbles in NYC?? Such increases are entirely unsustainable.

  • il Rogo says:

    Listen to Atalalia, all of you, who seems to know whereof s(he) speaks, whoever s(he) may be.

    • ianw2 says:

      Yes, he/she does an excellent job of summarising what every other writer has been saying about NYCO for the past three months.

  • il Rogo says:

    i.e. atalaya

  • m. p. arazza says:

    Curiously the Koch theatre seems to have become an albatross for its other tenant, too. NYCB plans to stop selling upper-ring seats:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/23/arts/dance/city-ballet-raises-prices-and-phases-out-low-cost-tickets.html
    (Actually Steel closed the fourth ring for Partenope)

    Will the Ballet end up abandoning the house as well?

    • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      Soon a major American opera will announce that their performances will be beamed to the stage of the neighboring vacant NY State Theater to accommodate people who otherwise never could afford to attend. Tickets for this new service will be offered to the public at the cost of 75 cents. Senior citizens, homeless, and handicapped people will be admitted at no charge. Tailgating will be permitted. It is expected that this new initiative will foster new audiences for opera. The stage of the State Theater will be fitted with computerized planks upon which the performances will be projected at various angles. On the opening nights of new productions, audience members in the new venue will receive a peanut butter and jelly finger sandwich and a liquified garden salad.