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Cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, picket a little more

This just landed in La Cieca’s inbox:  “We regret to inform you that Lyric Opera of Chicago season is in peril. Yesterday Lyric advised us that if we do not accept their one year demand for a two week reduction of employment, an elimination of wage parity with the orchestra, and an additional 5.2 % reduction in salaries that they will lock out AGMA members on Monday, August 22, 2011.”

The missive continues:

AGMA has worked hard to identify savings and has already made significant concessions, but we are unable to agree to a 11.25% reduction in wages nor Lyric’s suggestions that the Regular Chorus and Production Staff shift the burden of the concessions to Dancers, Supplementary Chorus, Actors and Principals who have already suffered from Lyric’s cuts to the artistic product. Lyric is seeking $500,000 in additional savings from their approved budget which already included the two weeks employment.

Lyric’s threats put the free concert for Chicago at Millennium Park in jeopardy, and possibly the entire season. General Director William Mason has been absent from all negotiations. Anthony Freud, the incoming General Director, has refused to participate in across-the-table negotiations with your bargaining committee. AGMA’s concern from the beginning of negotiations has been that Lyric and the Board do not have a plan to address the ten year, 27% decrease in ticket sales except to cut the artistic product through significant decreases in the number of Choristers, engaging fewer star performers, shifting comprimario roles from seasoned professionals to young artists, elimination of rehearsals with orchestra, and elimination of Actors and Dancers from opera.

Lyric is rudderless, with Board Chair Kenneth Pigott leading the company into oblivion.

AGMA, its staff and its attorneys and your negotiating committee will do everything possible to protect your hard won contractual protections. But Lyric Opera’s management must come to understand that you are the Opera’s product and that you don’t save a company by skimping on its product.

Regrettably, if Lyric decides to proceed with its announced plan to lock out performers, Lyric is going to lose the Millennium Park concert, and possibly its fall season. You need to prepare for that possibility and be prepared to close down Lyric. You will be expected to picket and to resist every encroachment upon your hard won contractual protections.


  • 1
    Clita del Toro says:

    The only performer I’d wish to be “locked out” is Renay.

  • 2
    Maria Malcontent says:

    Do you want total war? If necessary, do you want a war more total and radical than anything that we can even imagine today? February 18, 1943

  • 3
    aulus agerius says:

    What planet are they (agma) living on??? Contracts are made to be broken -- or at least modified. Disclaimer: I have never even been to LOC as their ‘product’ almost never interests me.

  • 4
    operagirl40 says:

    The union is ABSOLUTELY in the right. ….especially the part about the company being totally rudderless!!!

  • 5
    CruzSF says:

    I thought LOC was one of the few companies that was in the black. Even the Met and SFO managed to renew their contracts with their musicians. What’s going on at LOC? There must be a POV other than this leaked email.

    • 5.1
      Bosah says:

      Power play for the benefit of new management??

      • 5.1.1
        SilvestriWoman says:

        Exactly what I was thinking, Bosah. CruzSF is correct. Historically, LOC has been arguably the best-managed company in the US, thanks to the tight ship run by Carol Fox and her mentees, Ardis Krainik and William Mason. Until very recently, when things tanked all over, LOC regularly sold out over 100%, thanks to resale of return tickets.

        With Mason gone, the succession ended and, if this reportage is true, not a good sign for LOC. Strong-arming the backbone of the company will not work. This is a house where people simply don’t leave. Many -- most? -- of these singers (not to mention musicians, stagehands, production/musical staff) have been there for years, if not decades.

          Bosah says:

          Thank you. I had heard some of this, which is why I was as surprised as CruzSF. Given what I thought I knew, and what you’ve written, I don’t understand one part of the AGMA letter. I hadn’t heard of a 27% sales decline over 10 years, and you seem to be saying the same thing. I mean, even last year, weren’t sales over 90% or at least close?

          • inthewings says:

            The only reason that the last season was almost 90% sold is because LOC cut the number of performances.

    • 5.2
      web team says:

      they were for a long time, CSF. LOC was infamous for having a 98% subscription rate. But that was easily over 10 years ago.

  • 6
    Bosah says:

    Doesn’t management usually make a public statement of some sort if they’re planning a lock out? Isn’t half the point of a lock out trying to get members to pressure their union reps to settle? What’s the point of a secret lock out?

  • 7
    oblivion says:

    There are more viewpoints on this than there were empty seats at some of last year’s Mikados.

    Seems like AGMA National is trying to do a little bullying of its own. Sadly, the local AGMA committee had been doing a wonderful job and were making progress in almost daily meetings with LOC management. Wanna bet those meetings are cancelled after Mr. Gordon’s missive?

    I’m a Chicago-based AGMA member. I know all of the people on both sides of the table. It’s one thing to point out the facts of a negotiating situation. It’s totally another to make a personal statement singling out the president of the board, regardless of how much anyone may believe it. It makes the job of the folks who are working to keep people working even harder.

    Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and the negotiations can continue with more substance and less inflammatory rhetoric.

    That’s my two pennies worth.

    • 7.1
      Povero Buoso says:

      The comment about the Kenneth Pigott was inflammatory and unfortunate. As you said, hopefully cooler heads will prevail…

  • 8
    jatm2063 says:

    If they want to save another half million, they should cancel one of next seasons productions. That would save them a great deal more than half a million. They can cite whatever reason they choose, poor ticket sales being the most likely (and genuine) reason. Then they go to AGMA with the numbers and say, “You see, we tried our best, but no one really wants to see Opera X, so we had to cancel it.” But next season, thanks to the saved revenue, everything will be just fine! Until they have to do it again the season after that…

  • 9
    rossifigaro says:

    forget what her title is with the lyric and have no idea what her role is in this current situation but did get a good laugh out of that picture of renee on the chicago logo.

  • 10
    jatm2063 says:

    One thing that I have never understood is why any opera company’s management would sign a multi year agreement with AGMA and its members. It should be strictly year to year, and then the opera company can bring their accountants with the figures to the negotiating table each spring and say, “This is what we can pay next year. If you don’t like it, too fucking bad. We won’t have any more money than this, so take it or leave it.”

    AGMA and its members need to understand (as they seem not to understand currently) that if they close LOC down with a strike, or NYCO, or any other company, the board members will not suffer at all. Neither will most of the upper management who seem to get all of the blame these days (often deservedly so). The people who will suffer are the AGMA members, who won’t have any work at all. In other words, you can take a pay cut, or you can take no pay at all. And what are they going to do then? Wait tables? Drive taxis? Not an easy way to make a living in Chicago, or New York City, or any other very high priced urban environment. Do they think they are going to move to other cities and get jobs there in the same field, getting paid what they were getting at LOC? Not likely.

    • 10.1
      whatever says:

      oh, lord — again with the myopic union-bashing???

    • 10.2
      inthewings says:

      It seems that there is a lot that you do not understand. AGMA is not the only union in an opera house. The orchestra and the stagehands both have their own unions. WIthout a multi year contract the company would have to go through this every year with each union. To get a higher caliber of talent you need to pay for it. THe idea of “take it or leave it” doesn’t work either. If the unions leave it who is going to do it…You?

      • 10.2.1
        SilvestriWoman says:

        Thank you, inthewings!!! When I was struggling in the provinces, it was frustrating as hell to know that union musicians in the pit were making as much per-performance as I was making in the run, but the proof was in the pudding. Union musicians were superior to all non- groups. Moreover, non-union musicians pretty much showed up and I hoped for the best. (Most sight-read everything since they weren’t being paid as much.) Even my friends in the audience noticed the difference -- when a union orchestra was in the it, they understood the value of the higher ticket price.

        As a wise former boss once put it: “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” (Some or all of whom may be lip-synching for union musicians:

      • 10.2.2
        SilvestriWoman says:

        Thank you, inthewings!!! When I was struggling in the provinces, it was frustrating as hell to know that union musicians in the pit were making as much per-performance as I was making in the run, but the proof was in the pudding. Union musicians were superior to all non-union groups. Moreover, non-union musicians pretty much showed up and I hoped for the best. (Most sight-read everything since they weren’t being paid as much.) Even my friends in the audience noticed the difference -- when a union orchestra was in the it, they understood the value of the higher ticket price.

        As a wise former boss once put it: “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” (Some or all of whom may be lip-synching for union musicians:

      • 10.2.3
        jatm2063 says:

        I understand that they all have their own unions. They can ALL negotiate yearly as far as I am concerned. If that is difficult and time consuming, too bad. And if the managments followed the example of “this is what we have (so say our accountants and our board), there won’t be anything more, take it or leave it”, then those negotiations would be quick.

        As for higher caliber of talent, the unions have a throat lock on higher caliber of talent because if you are hired to sing in a chorus at a union house, or play in the orchestra, or work as a stage hand, etc. you are REQUIRED to join the union. No one joins the union unless/until they are forced to do so. And if they are offered the job, and they refuse to join the union, then they don’t get to do the job, even if their talent is superior to anyone else’s. In short, the best musicians out there are FORCED to join in order to work for the best companies. Everyone knows this. Had Renee Fleming been invited to sing at the MET all those years ago, and refused to join the AGMA, she would not be singing at the MET today. The same goes for every chorus member in every AGMA house in the country. They are required to do it whether they want to or not.

        You aren’t good because you are a member of a union. You’re good because you’re good. End of story.

          inthewings says:

          Do you UNDERSTAND ie; grasp, recognize, appreciate, get the picture, acknowledge, that the unions in the “best companies” also negotiate work rules, number of performers for the shows, safety rules, and health benefits for all of their workers and not just salary? Take dancers for example, their careers are much shorter than most other performing artists. They need to be protected by having rules governing the length and conditions of their rehearsals. Maybe all of the young artists should join their appropriate unions as soon as they finish their training and are ready to enter the profession. That way they could enjoy benefits at whichever company they work for. And you wouldn’t confuse the whole issue with talent. Epilogue.

          • jatm2063 says:

            Yes I clearly understand and I did so before you tediously brought up things that we all know. There undoubtedly do need to be work rules, safety rules, and rules regarding length and condition of rehearsals and performances as well.

            Number of performers for shows? What the hell does the union have any business getting into that? That’s an ARTISTIC and MUSICAL decision that should be made by the artistic/musical management, no exceptions. The union has no business insisting on a chorus of 80 for every production of Aida that occurs, or an orchestra of at least 90 for same.

            Short careers for dancers? Well too bad! They knew that when they made their decision to get into that business. They should all plan to do something else when their dance careers are over.

            Health benefits? They can all buy their own health insurance. AGMA’s insurance for its members sucks anyway. I have heard it said many times.

            I have said before, and I will say it again, that musical artists of all types, and other persons who work in that world as administrators, stage hands, etc. seem to believe that because they are ARTISTS, or contribute to an artistic product, they are somehow entitled to be EXEMPT from financial difficulties in their lives and careers. They think that the rest of the world owes it to them to keep them well fed, fat, and comfy for their entire lives. I got news for you, its not true. Music is a business, just like any other business. In an economy such as the one we are in today, they can take their lumps with everyone else out there.

          • armerjacquino says:

            The idea that people who embark on careers in the arts, specifically IN THE ARTS, do so with the expectation that they will be ‘well fed, fat and comfy their entire lives’ is so laughable and absurd that I don’t even know where to start.

          • Nerva Nelli says:

            “In an economy such as the one we are in today, they can take their lumps with everyone else out there.”

            Yes, you could not be more *right*, jatm2063! Let’s bring back child labor and indentured servitude while we’re at it. Why coddle those kids? If they don’t go blind threading needles 18 hours a day, somebody else will and will be damn glad for that $10 a month paycheck.

          ilpenedelmiocor says:

          This a reductio ad absurdum, zero sum game argument: if I don’t have the same benefits you have, then that means you must have more and/or better benefits than I have and that’s not fair, so you must be lazy and have cheated to get them, and if you have to cheat to get benefits then no one should have them, and if no one should have benefits then they must be a bad thing because if they were a good thing we would all have them in the first place.

          Scott Walker and the Koch brothers are eager for your vote.

  • 11
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Canceling on the the operas NOW is a very good idea, and if they don’t, frankly, I hope this season at Lyric Opera is in some way interrupted or even partially cancelled by AGMA. Billy Mason deserves no less to end his rule and none of this in the fault of Anthony Freund. Maybe George steel can be engaged as a special consultant.

    • 11.1
      inthewings says:

      Mister Freud should be interested in the new rules that he would have to live under (run the company). If Lyric’s negotiation team is keeping him up to date that is obviously not working to well. He should show up at the table to plea his own case. Lyric is trying to keep his “fingerprints” off of this entire mess.

  • 12
    javier says:

    what is with american’s and unions? take your pay cut and start looking for a second job.

    • 12.1
      SilvestriWoman says:

      What is it with Americans and unions? Simply put -- they built our middle class. In the case of our opera companies, they’ve also proven a guarantee of the best talent around.

      As far as the choristers, their jobs are treasured. My guess is that you’ve never tried to get a full-time position in a union chorus. Positions rarely become available as union opera chorus gigs are the only singing gigs in the country that provide a secure income plus benefits. As for that second job, some choristers teach on the side, or work temp jobs (if there still are any), in the off-season. During the season, though, a second job is difficult. Choristers have to remain flexible and their days can be long. It’s not unusual to be in rehearsal for one opera all day, then performing at night.

      What’s lost in a lot of the debate is that, more than ever, unions are making many concessions. Often what they’re fighting for is simply a place at the table. It’s easy to forget that, should LOC choristers strike, they’re not getting a pay check.

      • 12.1.1
        Lady Bracknell says:

        Those are all fair points, Silvestri. However, Lyric’s orchestra, stagehands and administrative staff have all seen their wages frozen/reduced and work weeks reduced in the last two years. Why should AGMA be exempted? Fair is fair.

          Povero Buoso says:

          Yes fair is fair-
          I know that AGMA has had less favorable contracts/wages in the past compared to those groups- and management is asking from AGMA more than those other groups gave up.
          So what’s fair about that?

  • 13
    Povero Buoso says:

    “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”

    Well put, SilvestriWoman. And so appropriate for this discussion. At LOC the emphasis since Krainik has been on “fiscal responsibility” and not on the product. The audience (not as dumb as they think) lost interest and stopped climbing over each other to grab that last ticket. And now they have a ‘systemic problem’ and can’t meet their operating budget because they relied so heavily on ticket revenue to balance the budget. So now they are asking for huge consessions from the unions (the same people who helped build the company).
    Sound familiar? It’s the American business model for the last 20+ years.

    • 13.1
      operagirl40 says:

      Totally accurate, Buoso. Who in HELL is going to pay $220 a ticket to hear Susanna Phillips sing LUCIA? Don’t blame the unions for empty seats. Lyric has been turned into a regional company.

      • 13.1.1
        oedipe says:

        I don’t get it, I’m stymied. Can’t a house like LOC hire some of the affordable budding talents who are criminally underutilized by the Met (because the Met insists on hiring all these overrated international stars)?

          operagirl40 says:

          Lyric SHOULD have realized that AFFORDABLE BUDDING TALENTS don’t sell tickets!! BTW … who are you suggesting?

          • oedipe says:

            Well…It beats me (I confess)! All I know is that the “affordable talents that are criminally underutilized by the Met” is a favored theme on Parterre. Maybe someone will care to enlighten us both?

          • atalaya says:

            Who are you suggesting? Besides the obvious Netrebko, Dessay, and Damrau, what Lucia would you choose for the purpose of selling tickets?

      • 13.1.2
        inthewings says:


      • 13.1.3
        jatm2063 says:

        BUT SUSANNA PHILLIPS IS A MEMBER OF AGMA! According to many posters on here, that means she must be one of the absolute best available Lucia’s on the planet at this moment. Just because she’s a member of a union!

        Any and all, feel free to rebutt at will. I would like to know what you have to say.

  • 14
    Povero Buoso says:


    In defense of Susanna Phillips, while a good singer, she is young and probably not seasoned enough to sing that role at a major venue. I hope she does well.

    Shame on ALL the major companies that bring promising young talent along too quickly or cast them in roles either too big or heavy just so they can promote the new “flavor” and create “buzz”. The focus on short term is not only ruining opera companies, but the lifeblood of those companies- the singers, who get burned out or maimed by bad casting decisions.

  • 15
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Let Ms Flemming sing a gala concert and cancel one of their crappy new productions so they can pay the performers! Better still -- get Liza Minnelli that will pack the house.

    • 15.1
      operadunce says:

      Don’t members of the chorus, dancers, orchestra, stage hands, etc. lose money if productions are canceled? BTW, Ms. “Flemming” is already scheduled to sing a subscriber appreciation concert in Chicago with Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Maybe Liza could sing Lucia instead?

      • 15.1.1
        Quanto Painy Fakor says:

        Not necessarily. As Gianni Schicchi says: “What you lose on the one hand, you gain on the other.” I wonder if one ran the math what the savings would be in such a cancellation of a production even after all of the required pay outs.

  • 16
    • 16.1
      SilvestriWoman says:

      Oops, Sun-Times…

    • 16.2
      SilvestriWoman says:

      Money quote?
      “AGMA’s national president, James Odom, a tenor in the Lyric Chorus, said, ‘I’ve never seen this type of intransigence. We, too, prefer to keep negotiations at the table, but when faced with an overt threat of a lockout — particularly just having gone through an actual lockout of our union with [the] Joffrey [Ballet] here — we can’t just do nothing.'”

      • 16.2.1
        Povero Buoso says:

        The Chicago Tribune article won’t come out until they’ve received their “marching orders” from LOC.
        I guarantee a pro-management slant, as that is the slant of The Trib.

        “Hey!- that union guy wants your cookie!”

      • 16.2.2
        SilvestriWoman says:

        Here’s background on the Joffrey lockout:

          Povero Buoso says:

          Wow! That article on the joffrey lockout was so misleading! AGMA represents the dancers and protected their rights against The Joffrey Ballet management. That article tried to say that Joffrey management was protecting the dancers against AGMA!

          • Clita del Toro says:

            Chicago: OT Verdi Requiem at Millennium Park on 19 August at 6:30.

            Grant Park Orchestra
            Grant Park Chorus
            Carlos Kalmar, Conductor
            William Spaulding, Guest Chorus Director
            Amber Wagner, Soprano
            Michaela Martens, Mezzo-Soprano
            Michael Fabiano, Tenor
            Kyle Ketelsen, Bass

            I am going with friends and picnicking on the lawn.

          • MontyNostry says:

            Nice line-up of singers, even if Ketelsen isn’t a real bass.

          • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

            And how would losing that requiem in the park harm the cultural life of Chicago as it is today? Unless it’s a memorial tribute to something it seems like an odd choice to herald a festive new season of opera.

          • armerjacquino says:

            Reason not the need.

          • SilvestriWoman says:

            QPF, nothing would be lost because the Requiem is being presented by the Grant Park Music Festival, not Lyric. Though all concerts are free, it’s an all-pro chorus, many of whom sing at Lyric, both as chorus and soloists.

          • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

            Well if they strike, this quy is probably not union yet, but he’s good!

            and multi-talented

          • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

            And since this page is headed “cheep, cheep , cheep”:

          Quanto Painy Fakor says:


  • 17
    Clita del Toro says:

    How Is Fabiano--never have heard him.

  • 18
    web team says:

    Fabiano = fabulous. I would buy a ticket for the Requiem. Amber Wagner is also another voice I would like to hear in person.

  • 19
    DonCarloFanatic says:

    Is it off-topic to say I am listening to Renee do Rosenkavalier on Sirius right now and she’s very good? Because she is, and she certainly has stamina, too.

    • 19.1
      mrmyster says:

      and, DCF, Renee’s Marschallin on the radio or other broadcast is MUCH better than in the house, because due to microphones etc. you can hear her — and her German text is good, meaningful; I learned this two years ago hearing her
      on the HighDef moviecast, where she was easily heard, and then live in the house where she was not heard. She does not have the weight in her middle voice that the role requires — that aside, she is very lovely in it. But, now I want to hear Madame Harteros’s Marschallin; that thought has my musical mouth watering. Agree?

      • 19.1.1
        DonCarloFanatic says:

        I’ve read a lot of praise for her on Parterre, but not heard her in anything yet.

      • 19.1.2
        armerjacquino says:

        I don’t know where you were sitting, mrmyster, but I was at the last run of Rosenkav at the Met and heard Fleming just fine from Family Circle. So ‘she was not heard’ by you, but this is not as definitive as your passive voice makes it sound.