Cher Public

All fall down

parterre box has obtained a memo sent to artists’ managers in which AGMA Executive Director Alan Gordon warns singers contracted to sing at the Met in the 2014-2105 season that due to unpromising developments in upcoming labor negotiations the company may be dark for part or all of the season, and that “it would be prudent for our principal singer members who have future contracts at the Met, and their agents, to… explore other sources of 2014-2015 employment.”

The complete memo follows the jump.

To: Agents of Singers Contracted to Appear At The Met and AGMA-represented artists with future Met contracts.

From: Alan Gordon, Executive Director, AGMA

Re: Met dark for some or all of 2014-2015 season?

Unfortunately, we have to advise you that the situation with regard to the renegotiation of the Met collective bargaining agreement continues to worsen, creating the distinct possibility that the Met will be dark for some or all of 2014-2015 season.

When we last wrote to you about the July 31 expiration of the current contract, we said: Peter Gelb’s removal of Joseph Volpe from the renegotiation of the Met’s contracts, intending instead to negotiate the contracts himself, is a clear and unmistakable forewarning that Gelb wants to restructure labor relations at the Met. From every indication we have, the Met plans to attack our decades-old contract protections and seek an across-the-board 10% or 15% reduction in compensation and fees, along with other deep contract concessions.

Now that we have received the Met’s actual contract proposals, we see that we had underestimated the extent of Peter Gelb’s intention to end decades of harmonious labor relations between the Met and its employees and to destroy the AGMA collective bargaining agreement covering you, the Met chorus, the dancers and the production staff, as well as his concomitant attack on the other union contracts covering the orchestra and stagehands.

From our initial analysis of the Met’s proposals, they reflect a what would be an out-of-pocket loss in compensation of between 22% and 39%, including complete elimination of Health Plan B, and changes in working conditions that would make you work longer, for less money. The changes proposed for Met Plan and Weekly solo singers are even more destructive in scope.

Gelb blames the Met’s fiscal problems on labor costs – you – but, in reality it’s more likely that his failing business model and unregulated waste have led to the Met’s problems. When Peter arrived at the Met, he inherited from Joe Volpe a balanced budget of $209 million. Last year, his productions had swollen the budget to $311 million, with a $2.8 million deficit, and a shrinking audience.

The conclusion seems inescapable that if the 3 major unions do not accept his attempt to “save” the Met on the backs of its performers, (which they obviously can not accept and will not accept) the Met fully intends to lock out all of its artists, instrumentalists and stage hands after the contracts terminate.

Consequently, if Peter Gelb continues to follow this course of action, and locks out employees, the Met will be dark for some or all of 2014-2015 season. Hopefully, he will come to realize that his approach to fixing the Met’s finances is untenable.

However, we have cautioned our Met staff employees members to prepare for an extended period of time with no Met income. As we previously suggested, we think it would be prudent for our principal singer members who have future contracts at the Met, and their agents, to likewise explore other sources of 2014-2015 employment.

Obviously, we and the other unions accept that the Met needs help to stay viable and will do everything possible to protect our respective members and their contracts, and we will try refocus Peter Gelb on the actual causes of his financial problems…and how to fix them in a global sense, and not through an attack on its performing artists.

Actual across-the-table will not begin until May or June, and we’ll keep you advised as things progress.

  • turings

    Best of luck to the unions in the negotiations (which presumably the memo and the leak are part of) – hope it can be resolved fairly without the Met going dark.

  • operaassport

    This is thuggish behavior and disgusting and if an employer engaged in these kinds of threats the unions would file a complaint with the NLRB. Shame on Alan Gordon.

    • Lalala

      Why shame on Alan Gordon? He is only writing to the members of his union and warning them of the potential dark times ahead. This is standard operating procedure in many contract negotiation time periods. He could be actually doing his artists a service. However, most of the engagements at most companies for next season already fully contracted. There isn’t much left for all of those artists to find in case a strike or lock-out is ordered. A strike or lock-out could hurt a lot of people--they need to be aware.

      • operaassport

        He isn’t writing to members of his union. He’s writing to artist’s managers who are not members of his union to warn them. It’s veiled threats. It’s a disgusting tactic.

        • Because the course of action should be “Yes, master Gelb, we will take that 30% pay cut, allow you to eliminate health benefits and go along with your idea that we should work longer hours without much break (to the detriment of our health and vocal longevity) just because you have been an absolute moron and have run a deficit of millions”, right?

          Interesting how when there is need to tighten the belt, all the belt tightening needs to happen at the bottom of the totem pole while the people at the top keep their salaries, benefits and vacations; but the issue is always the ones at the bottom, because they dare demand what is fair.

        • Lalala

          That’s right. It’s standard procedure to write to the artists THROUGH their agents. Just like it is standard procedure for the company to write to the artist THROUGH the singer’s agent. When Gelb wrote to the artists a few years back asking them to cut their fees or donate back, it came THROUGH the agents. Was that “thuggish behavior”? Of course both sides write to the artists THROUGH the agents. That is the way it is set up and the way it is supposed to be.

    • He’s not even threatening a strike, he’s warning people that Gelb is threatening a lockout. The constant referral to union actions as “thuggish” (no matter the industry or the context) it what is really “disgusting” in this day and age.

      And precisely what, in your estimation as a labor law expert, qualifies this as a ULP?

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Wow, this calls for Norma Rae and presto! Sounds really grim. And how long must they wait to know if they will be unemployed? Is here no telephone?

  • johns33

    I don’t think there will be much sympathy for the stage hands union
    After the nyt article that came out earlier this year.

  • johns33

    I’ve seen my income drop 20% and am working longer for less. What’s the problem. I can no longer afford to contribute to the met as I have in the past. The unions have to get real

    • Lalala

      This is the same thing for the singers…they are not seeing fees rise and are getting fewer and fewer performances. I’m not sure what you’re thinking AGMA should do (they aren’t a very strong union in the first place). Singers don’t bring home as much as you might think after all the expenses, commissions, taxes, etc. are taken from the paycheck.

      • johns33

        Why are we lumping the singers and contracted performers with the stage crews? I read that these crew jobs are handed down within families. Sounds pretty secure to me.

        • Lalala

          There are several unions involved with this--each with contracts due. And what the soloists get is far different than what the chorus gets. The soloists have zero benefits, have to come into town and pay housing and all other expenses. A foreign artist is lucky to walk home with 30% of their paycheck.

    • Jamie01

      If you don’t have a problem with working more hours for 20% less pay, so be it. Some of us would have a big problem with it.

      • …has management, which gave us the new RING, the new FLEDERMAUS, and other assorted delights, been working for more hours with 20% less pay?

      • Lalala

        Not sure which post you’re referring to. Many singers have lost a lot more than 20% of their incomes over the past several years--a LOT more than that. And now, when they work at the Met, they’ll be losing all the more. They have no job security, either, and handle all of their own medical and retirement accounts, if they are wise, by themselves.

        • olliedawg

          Mr. AGMA simply reads from the tried-and-true playbook…offensive move, prep your team to take hard knocks, keep the defense guessing on your next move… Mr. Gelb simply reads from his playbook…offensive move, lay out your opening negotiating position (which is never going to be the last one), gauge your partners’ reactions…. This is Contract Negotiations 101.

          To my cher parterrian who asked if Gelb and his folks have taken a pay cut during this time: This is the wrong question, aimed at the easy target.

          EVERYTHING, every little iota of our lives, has become more expensive — insurance of all kinds has gone through the roof, Obamacare isn’t doing my health premiums any favors, a trip to the grocery store boggles the mind, gas prices are out of control (don’t ask me about my recent propane invoices, or I’ll do a Wozzeck on you), air fares are laughable…If you believe you can dictate terms on or to an airline, fuel supplier, or (hahahaha) an insurance company, think again.

          I’ll also add that, for most companies, payroll is THE single biggest item on the P&L, ranging anywhere from 50-70% of expenses. Now add in insurance premiums of all stripes, utilities, storage, and goodness knows what else the Met pays for, and there ain’t much left over. Excoriating the Met management for wanting to have some measure of control over soaring labor costs (that’s pay, insurance, pension benefits) is simply missing the bigger picture.

          No offense, Lalala, but there is precious little, to zero, job security out there, and there hasn’t been for many years (I’ll blame Ronald Reagan for rewarding job-killers masquerading as corporate saviors). I know more people who’ve been laid-off, down-sized, right-sized, and any other euphemisms for fucked-over you can think of. If people are looking for a job for life, good luck finding it.

          For better or worse, many of us must handle ALL of our own medical and retirement plans and/or accounts. I envy those who don’t have to worry about every crappy form or having no choice but to use doctors in a certain set of providers, and I certainly don’t think it’s right or fair or humane that I, along with many others, has to deal with this shit by our lonesomes. I’m the child of a union father who told stories of lock-outs and arbitrary firings and line speed-ups. There was a time when unions were sorely needed. They still are needed, but union leaders must understand that, in the end, everyone needs to take a step back, find their bottom-line (not the bottom of the barrel), and figure out a way to get the most they can out of a deal with screwing someone else out of a job.

          • olliedawg

            …figure out a way to get the most they can out of a deal WITHOUT screwing someone else out of a job.

  • norma54

    BRAVO Alan Gordon, well done! Warning your members of current negotiation tactics, facts and possibilities is what you are supposed to do. Any AGMA member would and SHOULD thank you for being kept informed. You can be sure the orchestra and stage-hand unions are doing exactly the same thing. Again, BRAVO! Keep up the good work and stand firm.

  • papopera

    WORKERS OF ALL LANDS, UNITE !

  • Guestoria Unpopularenka

    What happens to the principal singers if their contracts are broken i.e. the house goes dark?

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Force majeur! La forza del destino!

      • Grane

        (Oscar): Da maxa shicksa!

      • olliedawg

        QPP — you go! I guess now I’ll HAVE to revisit the fabulousness of “La Forza” ;-)

    • Satisfied

      In all fairness…not the worst season for the Met to go dark :-/

      • semira mide

        Well, I will be miffed if I don’t get to see La Donna del Lago with the best cast possible and admittedly meh production.

        • Satisfied

          Having seen this production in Santa Fe…consider it a blessing and pray JDF and JDD do a concert performance.

    • bluecabochon

      What happens to the chefs in the Met restaurant kitchen, the cleaners, the ushers, the security guards, the people who build sets and costumes, the box office staff, the gift shop workers, the building maintenance workers, the people who do payroll, the house doctor or nurse, secretaries, office workers, and the restroom attendants? These are the people who will be scrambling to put food on the table and stay in their homes, doing unglamorous jobs and praying that they don’t get laid off in this standoff.

      • damianjb1

        Exactly. The people at the bottom of the food chain are my concern.

  • phoenix

    Perhaps absence will make the heart grow fonder.

  • antikitschychick

    WTF???? Are things really that dire?? Seems like that memorandum is overly prophetic in a very pessimistic manner.

    • olliedawg

      Again, Mr. AGMA is reading from the standard playbook…riling people up, getting them ready to man the barricades, er, picket lines…unsurprising, really, and also unsurprising that memos get “leaked”.

      • antikitschychick

        thanks for clarifying olliedawg. I read your well-written and thought out post above and I tend to agree with you, though I admittedly know very little on this subject. I do hope the Met and the labor unions can come to a consensus so that the season will go on as planned.

  • semira mide

    I have no idea how contracts, strikes, lock-outs etc work so I am asking this in sincere ignorance.

    What would prevent a “Phoenix-NYCO” ( not “our” phoenix!) from hosting a season with all the canceled singers in venues like Carnegie Hall, The New York State Theater, City Center, etc? The logistics would be crazy, of course, but is there anything contractual/legal that would prevent such a thing?
    They might have to be concert stagings, with replacement conductors in some cases… but why would this not work?

    • phoenix

      “your” phoenix approves! -- Particularly if it were a series of concert performances of complete operas -- not all of them necessarily from the original Met schedule.

    • bobsnsane

      Anyone who thinks the UNION leeches
      @ Carnegie Hall
      will tolerate that “betrayal”
      of their union brothers
      has gotta B smoking the MEAN green !

      To wit:

      http://tinyurl.com/n8y9v7d

      Read it & weep!

      P S the 1% got nothin’ on these blood-suckers.

      They make even the NYC teacher’s unions
      look reasonable as they give the boot
      2 impoverished kids in Harlem’s charter schools.

      Pay particular “attention to the hall’s five full-time stagehands’ [whose] total yearly compensation, [is] an average of more than $400,000 each…” for moving piano’s & setting up music stands.

      Yup it’s as if Orchestra seats @ $300 plus
      for Fledermaus mediocrity
      isn’t outrageous enough…
      they gotta raise it 2 $400 +
      in the name of ‘a living wage’.

  • rommie

    it’s a sad state of affairs when people relegate the conditions of labor and the rights of workers to organize and demand compensation for their work as secondary to the consumption of multi-million dollar banality.

    • steveac10

      I believe a balance has to be struck, and signaling you will be intractable before negotiations even begin could be foolhardy.

      The fact is this particular union has done little or nothing to better the lots of the solo singers in the house (or anywhere). 30 years ago there was a roster of secondary/cover singers who were Met employees and received benefits and protections like the chorus and orchestra still receive.

      These days the roster is bloated with a million singers we’ve never heard (and likely never will), all of whom are independent contractors who are likely just scraping by.

      A look at Munich’s casting for next season is instructive. There are at least a couple dozen singers who have been cast in 6-8 role ranging from bits to second leads and are likely there the whole season. The Met has almost 90 sopranos on the roster this season. Very few of them are singing more than 1 role (and about third are scheduled for none). That’s bloat. It’s got to be cheaper to hire a dozen of the non-stars on weekly contracts for the season to sing Clothilde and the like and cover Zdenka and Despina than to pay four dozen of them to sit in sub-let studios on the UWS waiting for a call that never comes.

      • olliedawg

        I agree, steveac10. It would be more than a little instructive to get your questions answered.

        By the way, I’ve yet to hear anyone ask how much $$ Mr. AGMA is paying himself and/or if he’s taken a pay cut over the course of this fiscal debacle, let alone how many of his reports make eye-popping salaries. Why is it always the Met mgmt. as villain, as if union leaders are always squeaky clean? (Mind you, I don’t have a dog in this fight, just sayin’ why the union folks aren’t subject to the same scrutiny as the management folks?)

      • Chanterelle

        You really can’t compare working conditions for singers and other entertainment workers, onstage and off, in Europe and in the U.S. because there’s so much more support for the arts in Europe, particularly subsidies. I’ve been looking at the situation in France a little bit: here’s my recent post about the crisis facing the “intermittents du spectacle,” entertainment industry freelancers who are not under long-term contracts (i.e. the situation of most singers in the U.S.). The current hot-button issue is their enhanced unemployment compensation, which the three big management alliances want to eliminate.

        http://classicalvoiceamerica.org/2014/03/02/not-just-another-french-strike/

        The last time the intermittents’ benefits were threatened, the strike led to the cancellation of the 2003 Avignon festival. Locals suffered because a big chunk of their livelihood depends on festival tourism. French show people know their value (in part because the government shows support in the form of cold hard cash), and they know how to hang tough.

        I can’t even begin to guess how things will go with the Met negotiations but I have a bad feeling, especially after watching the fiasco in Minnesota.

        • Camille

          Very interesting and thank you for posted this for us here!

          • Camille

            Having posted this…….ecc.

  • Lady Abbado

    Who’s fault is the glitch at minute 5:25 -- the conductor’s or Angela’s?

    • WindyCityOperaman

      Angela’s. Missed her entrance and came in late.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      It’s just a rehearsal and Angela (too busy channeling Callas) was not watching conductor at that moment, who was also very focused on the brass right before the false entrance. From the angle of this video I doubt she was even able to see him. Conductor Ivan Repuši? was also stepping in on short notice. She sounds sort of good.

      • bluecabochon

        QPF, he’s standing right next to her -- 4 feet away at the most. Isn’t it her job to watch him?

        • Guestoria Unpopularenka

          Isn’t it her job to know when to sing?

          • armerjacquino

            So singers aren’t even allowed to make mistakes IN REHEARSALS?

            • Guestoria Unpopularenka

              Where did I SAY THAT? It was suggested that she made the mistake because she couldn’t see the conductor.

            • armerjacquino

              Yes, I know. And it’s her job to know when to sing, and to pay attention to the conductor, and all that. But waving around the job description over a mistake in a rehearsal is pretty rough.

            • Guestoria Unpopularenka

              It’s pretty rough to have the need to pick a fight.

            • armerjacquino

              I don’t have any desire to pick a fight with you or anyone, please don’t read things that way.

              The response to the rehearsal video is just more grist to the mill, that’s all.

              Netrebko’s a whore, Kauffmann needs to go to the gym, only Hampson’s mum is interested in his Wozzeck, Gheorghiu doesn’t know what her job is, Gruberova doesn’t sing in America because she knows she sings out of tune, De Niese takes her clothes off to hide the fact she can’t sing, Harteros spends her time changing diapers, Fleming- well, pick your own.

              And now, excusing a singer’s mistake because it’s a rehearsal is seen as ‘picking a fight’.

              Is there really, really not the slightest chance that sometimes comments and reviews here cross the line from ‘honest opinion’ into contempt?

            • Guestoria Unpopularenka

              Unless you’re any of the aforementioned, you’re taking everything way to personally. It’s unhealthy.

            • armerjacquino

              Where am I taking anything personally? What an odd idea.

              But it’s interesting that even to suggest what I’m suggesting should be greeted with such defensiveness.

            • Guestoria Unpopularenka

              Please, I don’t have the desire or energy to be burdened with anyone’s emotional baggage. I consider this exchange terminated.

            • armerjacquino

              Bye then!

              (’emotional baggage’? The ACTUAL?)

    • Bianca Castafiore

      Not bad considering, her voice seems to have grown darker and weightier????

      Lady, are you aware of this train wreck here:

      • Camille

        The only thing I could ever figure out on this was she was singing in italiano while thinking in Roumanian. Or something like that. Beautiful high B flat though and great dress. Who knows?

        • Bianca Castafiore

          I thought at the time that she and the conductor did not rehearse together or something, and then “Not in front of Gracie, Barry and Michelle!!!!!” (not to mention Denyce).

          • Camille

            Or, not least of all, “Barack, mein Mann”

            Kisses to Irma and don’t work her too hard!

            And I never could figure out why Graves did not sing at this event. È strano

            • Bianca Castafiore

              Cammilletta!!!! I don’t think Barry & Shel much noticed it, but I’m sure La Bumbarina did, who didn’t show it. (And Simon as well.)

              What would La Graves have sung then? “Vieni, t’affretta”?????? “Re dell’abisso, affrettati”????

            • Camille

              “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” and/or “God bless America”.

              How about a Habanera or two? Certainly a specialty of La Grace Melzia and of Ms. Graves, both girls.

              È stranuccia assai!

            • Bianca Castafiore

              I wasn’t serious, Cammillissima, but I’ve heard that Graves doesn’t have much voice left, although I heard she did sing Herodias some time ago… The only Bumbry -- Gheorghiu connection I know of was their Turandot in London.

            • la vociaccia

              What year was it though, 2009? La Graves may have sadly been having vocal troubles at that point.

            • Guestoria Unpopularenka

              Where is Graves? I don’t see her. And I always wondered who that crying woman at the end is.

            • la vociaccia

              Graves is teaching voice full time at the Peabody conservatory. She sings very rarely; there was a Katisha last year which got some coverage. I didn’t hear any firsthand accounts

            • Guestoria Unpopularenka

              No, where is she in the video, I mean lol

            • Bianca Castafiore

              You can see her in this longer video, along with Simon and other distinguished guests, but it’s unlistenable. That’s why I didn’t post it in the first place.

            • Guestoria Unpopularenka

              Thanks!

          • Guestoria Unpopularenka

            Trebs was also there.

      • Lady Abbado

        Unfortunately there were a couple of posts on Youtube with the actual concert in Baden-Baden, but only sound, and only for Otello/Ave Maria & Traviata/Addio…I would have liked to see the post-rehearsal version of Tu che le vanita (embarrassingly, I realized only late that this was the rehearsal, as I began to wonder about the casual dressing of the conductor and Angela sitting with her back to the public :).

        But at least the video is good indication that her voice is in good shape. And I love the way she carries the word “francia” for 11 seconds from 4:20 to 4:31! Even better than on the recording (Verdi Heroines).

        I guess they were very strict with the no recording policy & it’s harder to hide the actual filming than mere sound recording.

        Bianca, what was the error in the Vissi d’arte?

        • Bianca Castafiore

          Lady, it’s the constant tug-and-pull between her and the conductor even from the beginning, I expected it to get together by the end of the aria, but even then major coordination issues…

          • Lady Abbado

            Okay thanks; that’s how I learn…just a keen amateur here (blush).

            • Bianca Castafiore

              Lady, oh hunny, no need to blush… I probably exaggerated about the coordination issues because when I first heard it at the time, they really jumped out at me, and now that I’ve re-watched it, I see that it didn’t help that she and the conductor couldn’t see each other!!!! (which could have been solved with some strategically placed monitors, as they do elsewhere in these situations…)

          • MontyNostry

            … and she and Pappano were at odds with each other at moments in both Act I and Act II of Tosca last time she did it at Covent Garden (2011, I think). She exploits his general tendency towards over-indulgence in schmaltzy bits.

      • bluecabochon

        I don’t hear that much that’s wrong here.

    • Sempre liberal

      Damn, she sounds great here. Has she ever sung Elisabetta?

      (I admit I have a soft spot in my heart -- or my jugular -- for Draculette.)

      • Lady Abbado

        On recording she did only Tu che… & the duets in the finale, with Roberto:

        She never sang the full role (allegedly she withdrew at the rehearsal stage for Don Carlo at the ROH because she wanted the short version and her wish was not granted…); as for Elisabetta’s aria…she began singing it in 2013 but only about four times to date(concerts in London, Hamburg, and Munich I think; + Baden-Baden).

        Interestingly, Tu che… was to displace the role Ebben… plays in her concerts, but she reverted to the tried and true and at the concerts in Versailles and Frankfurt in 2013 she modified the original program to substitute Ebben for Tu che…

    • MontyNostry

      There was a glitch in the same aria when Ange sang it at her concert at the Royal Festival Hall last spring. If I remember rightly, she had the score on a stand at the time. Any performer can make a mistake, but there was some real Schlamperei going on that evening.

  • parpignol

    anyone want to guess whether Kaufmann will sing tomorrow evening?

    • bluecabochon

      He is singing tonight, as per the Met’s website.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Many treasures to be found in this Youtube account

  • Guestoria Unpopularenka
  • semira mide

    Podles in Pesaro at the Rossini Opera Festival. August 20th. There will be no strikes, lock-outs, etc. at the Festival. But, this being Italy, maybe the trains will go on strike.
    Podles and Rossini -- an incomparable match!

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      I hate to say it, but when I heard Podles on Monday this week there was a lot less voice than the last time I heard her. She was still delicious on stage of course, and by far the best at the dialogue (this was La Fille du Regiment).

      • semira mide

        I’m sorry to hear that. She was terrific two summers ago, but of course a lot can happen in two years.