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Back from the dead?

BREAKING: The Met has extended its “lockout” deadline for an additional 72 hours at the request of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, who is leading talks between the company and two of its largest unions, AGMA and Local 802.  The Met has already reached contract agreements with Local 32BJ, which represents ushers, ticket takers, cleaning staff, porters, security guards, and office service workers; Local 210, which represents the call center; and Local 30, which represents building engineers.

EARLIER: AGMA and Local 802 have agreed to the Met’s proposal that Allison Beck, a representative of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, be appointed immediately to mediate negotiations, working with both sides to find a compromise agreement. More details at New York Times.

90 comments

  • operaghost7 says:

    No lockout for now. Talks continue tomorrow.

  • NoelAnn says:

    A little progress! Lockout averted for 72 hours, and my friends are going to work tomorrow! Huzzah! Keep at it, negotiators!! ?#?weareopera?

    • NoelAnn says:

      i was still getting the hang of things when this was posted it was posted without edit i meant to say just lockout averted for 72 hrs. the rest was someone else’s. Just want to be honest if i make an error. apologies i will be more careful

  • Yay! No lockout! Negotiations to continue. That, at least is good news

  • NoelAnn says:

    This is good for the big 3 unions, but apparently Local 1 (security guards et al) have walked out already & Met has hired a new security co.

  • Satisfied says:

    I know the major names in mediation on both the State(s) and Federal level, but I’ve never heard of a “federal mediator” (a strange term as the outfit also mediates State court disputes…) nor FMCS. That said, I looked up Allison Beck and her background is very (pro-) labor oriented

    My hypothesis: she will propose a settlement that would require a strong compromise from the unions (but not to degree Gelb is seeking), and should they reject the offer, the unions who do not accept will look incredibly greedy and lose any support they may have.

    …smart strategy.

  • redbear says:

    This is not about Gelb although he is part of the puzzle. I first heard Gelb speak at a Opera Europa meeting in Paris. This was while he was only the “designated” director. In sharp contrast to the other intendants, who spoke about the art of opera, he noted first the increasing age of his audience and the need to change that. For him it was a marketing problem and, since then, he has given not the slightest hint of an artistic concept.
    He was right about aging audiences. The Met had a long history of finding the easy way to keep conservative audiences happy. When opera does not evolve or challenge, it just becomes part of the wallpaper. Gelb was smart enough to see that, for the last several decades, European opera had given new emphasis to innovative staging and expanded rep and that this had worked. Rather that ask American artists to help him, he simply began importing the more “standard” innovative productions from across the pond.
    His problem was that, by the time he arrived, European audiences were far ahead of New York audiences in experiencing, and adjusting to, this change. A rather standard European rethinking of Tosca, for example, caused a collective heart attack. A Faust, by a director who had a long history of innovative theater in the US, caused similar palputations (American theater and ballet audiences, for instance, were far more used to new ideas that the Met’s regulars.)
    Now add to this mix a decline in interest in the arts in America and particularly in opera. (In the 09/10 season, the US was 32nd in the world in per capita opera with 6.1 performances per million. By 12/13 it was 39th with 5.6.)
    Add in too the economic contraction of the US economy and the shrinking of the middle class. While the top .1 percent has grown dramatically, their donations to opera have nowhere kept pace with giving in other philanthropic areas.
    Another factor was the habit, during the growth of arts in the 1960s and 70s, to say yes to wage demands. Major US orchestras have salaries that are often double what the same musician might make in Europe and yet this trend continued while the curve of support for the arts took a dip starting with the 1980s. The Minnesota Orchestra was only the most visible of the efforts to adjust performing arts costs to the current environment.
    Every performing arts group in America well knows the pain of adjusting to the new reality. Opera America and the League of America Orchestras have endless forums on how to meet these challenges. Yet the Met seemed to click along as if in another world but all the time whittling down their endowment to balance the budget. But the model is not working and, even if they win the concessions they want, they will just put off for another few years the final accounting. Stuck with their aging, conservative audience and a seriously outsized house, it is hard to see a bright future.

    • turings says:

      Interesting on Gelb and the Met’s audience, redbear.

      Reading these contentious Met threads, there may be another problem as well. I think olliedawg was on to something important when he called himself an ‘opera consumer’ a few days back. A lot of people here seem to see themselves as consumers of a finished product, who are concerned with getting the sort they want for the least cost to them.

      If you’re thinking in those terms, then it’s not surprising that you’d have much the same level of interest in the people who make your opera as the people who make your smartphone. And passive consumerism isn’t a good model for the sort of effort involved in taking artistic chances as an audience member along with a company you follow and trust.

      • armerjacquino says:

        Bravo.

      • Chanterelle says:

        “passive consumerism isn’t a good model for the sort of effort involved in taking artistic chances as an audience member along with a company you follow and trust.”

        This. European opera companies benefit from engaged audiences who are curious to see what the artistic staff comes up with. With an audience involved in the house’s artistic mission, if one or two productions are less than successful, it’s not the end of the world.

        BUT an engaged audience doesn’t spring up without guidance and development. The house already offers an overpriced scholarly lecture series marketed to guild members, but that assumes a fairly sophisticated and exclusive audience. Many houses have free 20-minute introductions to each show, enough to orient the newcomer plus some factoids for the initiate. List Hall would be ideal for this.

        There’s certainly a cost involved, but without investment in the audience there’s no future.

      • kashania says:

        What I’m reading is that just because the Met’s product is art, then somehow its finances should also be viewed in a more fanciful light?

        Gelb’s artistic leadership has been a big improvement over his predecessor’s. Gelb has taken “artistic chances” and many union employees taking part in this discussion are lambasting Gelb precisely for taking those artistic chances, suggesting that if Gelb had only relied on a guaranteed box office formula (as if such a thing exists), no one would be in this mess.

        Volpe did not go after the unions’ wages. In fact, during the last round of negotiations, which he led on behalf of Gelb, he gave the unions pretty much everything they wanted. His artistic vision was seriously lacking but that did not matter because he gave the unions what they wanted. That, apparently, is the recipe for success in running America’s largest performing arts organisations.

        Gelb may not talk a good game when it comes to opera, and I’m sure he’s far less knowledgeable on the subject than many European general directors (never mind, the average parterrian). But the proof is in the pudding and Gelb’s programming has been a vast improvement over Volpe.

        After days and days of this discussion, it has become apparent to me that people hate Gelb because he’s not a nice guy. I don’t work for him, so I don’t know. But yes, I’m quite willing to believe that he’s not a likeable boss, and that he rubs many people the wrong way. Aside from the proposed cuts, his personality and managerial style seems to be the prime motivator for much of the anti-Gelb rhetoric.

        • messa di voce says:

          Thank you.

        • olliedawg says:

          Kashania, I agree about the artistic quality of Gelb vs. Volpe. I suspect, too, you’re right about Gelb’s personality/style, and the simmering resentment of it. In addition, there might an extra dollop of anger b/c Gelb removed Volpe from the conversation, a guy who was union-legacy, so to speak.

      • olliedawg says:

        Actually, turings,that statement was in reaction to one poster’s “diss” of parterrians who’ve written here about exploring changes the Met’s short-and long-term cost structure. IIRC, I think that person characterized us as “fools”. Further, my comment was about treating your customer, of whom there are many (and passionate ones) up here on Parterre, with respect.

        In addition, you are speculating (wrongly) about my personal motivations and methods when it comes to how I “consume” art(s), and passing generalizations about other parterrians’ participation in the arts. I would have to think there are people who don’t give a shit about where their art comes from, who creates it, how much it costs, and worry more about how they can cheat the system and the artists. But, I’ll bet there are many of us up here on Parterre and elsewhere who participate as donors, board members, even as members of amateur opera/theatrical companies, who pay up and show up.

        • turings says:

          Hi ollie, I thought it was a striking phrase that made sense of a particular way of talking about opera here. Obviously I don’t know your personal motivations, and didn’t intend to imply that I did.

    • Howling in Tune says:

      People didn’t complain about the new Tosca or Faust because they was particularly Regie-ish. We complained because they were bad.

      As soon as they revived Tosca with a more suitable cast (and cut the most egregious little bits of stage business), people were basically fine with it.

      (The ugly Faust and misguided Sonnambula are less easily redeemable.)

      Nobody complained about the stagings of From the House of the Dead or Satyagraha or The Nose (one of the great opera productions of my experience) or Two Boys. People who didn’t like those works complained about the decision to present them at the Met in the first place, but nobody said the productions were bad -- because they weren’t.

      It took some of the Met’s audience a while to get used to the current Lohengrin, but now it seems very much admired by many people.

      Just because the New York audience doesn’t like the sort of Regie that we make fun of here in the Regie Quizzez doesn’t mean we hate all innovative stagings and expect every production to be like Schenk of Zeffirelli.

      • Howling in Tune says:

        We just want it to be good.

        Reasonably compelling storytelling and some level of internal coherence and logic in the staging aren’t -- or shouldn’t be -- too much to ask.

      • redbear says:

        Careful, Howling, because you are giving an example of a typical American audience member. What was bad? The same Tosca appeared in Europe without the same reaction and was a clear example of how wide the gulf was between US and continential audiences. One example: European audiences would understand Scarpia getting head because he was someone in everyone’s news, the Italian prime minister Silvo Berlusconi. Audiences in Europe would not be surprised by references to current news and his scandalous lifestyle was common knowledge. The map above his head of “Italy” -- a country which, at the time the opera was set, did not exist -- would have been a clear reference. In New York, of course, neither the audiences or critics got the reference. Scarpia kissing the virgin Mary? Most Europeans know enough history to appreciate the dismal, cosy history of the church and the conservative monarchy. And I bet you didn’t know that the Tosca set design was done by the same guy, with exactly the same aesthetic, for The House of the Dead. If you can’t be more specific about your problems with Tosca, I am assuming you just missed the tired, cliche-filled old one.
        Also, I was at the ENO first night of Faust, two rows up from Gelb. It was well received in London.

        • Krunoslav says:

          “The same Tosca appeared in Europe without the same reaction”

          Bullshit. Changes had been made.

          And it’s also bullshit that we New Yorkers are too stupid to know about Berlusconi

          • redbear says:

            While your eloquence and many examples of what you are talking about was persuasive could you please help me out with details. Can you cite some changes that were seen the first night but not seen at the HD broadcast which I saw a few days later? The Le Monde critic Renaud Machart was at the first night and was astonished at the number of excited comments on the Met web which were by people who could not have been there and were blasting a non-tradiitonal production sight unseen. Our leader here, in a different discussion, could not also identify the specific changes. With you as a witness to both the first night and the Munich and La Scala performances, I would appreciate your help in identifying the specific changes that were made to make this Tosca more “acceptable” after the first night and also the changes made for those European cities.
            As for the “Faust” I thought the production was not among the director’s best work. Des McAnuff was director of the major theater in my hometown for a couple of decades and had made San Diego one of the nations top theater towns. I was totally dumbfounded at the reaction of the critics and audience. Why was there such a hysterical reaction to what would be a “normal” progressive theater production in America when seen at the opera? While the critics were not enthusiastic in the UK, they were far more objective than the audience at the Met or Krunoslav.

            • Krunoslav says:

              I was speaking of TOSCA not FAUST. I never said I was at Muncih or Milan but it was evident from the reviews I read that it was not what I had seen opening night. in NYC. Sone would be obsessive enough t spend hours chasing down these reviews but I am sorry not me.
              As for the HD-- one example is how Scarpia embraced the Madonna statue-- far, far less of frontal mount and rape than on opening night. Tosca’s attack on the portrait was also different- as I recall, she had mounted the stairs and slashed it rather than hurling the knife through it- maybe it was the other way around, I just don’t care at this juncture, but it was very different. The three ho’s servicing Scarpia were toned down *considerably*. Tosca’s affect at the post-murder sink into the couch was less exaggerated. Theanti-musical army maneuvers at the start of Act Three were curtailed somewhat and made less loud. The dummy at the end failed less visibly. Anyone else recall specifics?

              As to my eloquence, to a claim that Americans attending an opera prima at the Met knew nothing about Berlusconi, again I say: that is absolute bullshit, Put down the Baudrillard.

            • La Cieca says:

              Having seen the Tosca both on opening night and then later that year, I can say that there were some minor touch-ups here and there. Each baritone playing Scarpia seemed to approach the “embrace” of the statue a little differently, and I can’t think of anyone I’ve seen in this production who really committed to it.

              The whores at the beginning of the second act have turned a bit less aggressive, though it’s hard to say how much of that change is sparing the audience’s delicate sensibilities and how much is Bryn Terfel saying, “They’re not going to be doing that during my aria, are they?” Terfel I though made this bit work really brilliantly; he took the idea and made it his own.

              By the time the production returned in the spring, the lighting levels in the first act were raised somewhat, which I thought was all to the good: originally it was not easy to tell what was going on with all these people in black clothes against a dark grey wall. By the second season, the rubble on the floor of the chapel had mostly been swept up.

              The opening of the third act changed some too, though it seems to me that was more likely because tenors don’t like to lie under a dropcloth for ten minutes before their big aria.

              But the changes were very minor, particularly compared to the wholesale restaging that regularly used to go on in Volpe’s productions. (And when you think of how In Pavarotti performances Cavaradossi spent most of the first act seated on a stool downstage center, with a goblet of water in easy reach…)

              The Munich iteration of the show is on YouTube and it’s in almost every detail the same staging that was played a the Met on opening night, with only slight variations I think allowing for the very different physicalities of Marcelo Alvarez and Jonas Kaufmann. There are no major changes.

            • kashania says:

              Thank, Cieca. I’ve seen the Met telecast and Munich performance which you’ve posted and I wondered how much had changed. I don’t know if it was my memory or my lowered expectations, but I found Matilla better the second time around with Kaufmann, if still out of her comfort zone.

            • Krunoslav says:

              Thanks, Cieca-- the Act One lighting ( and use of follow spots) was indeed considerably changed.and to the better.

              But to me all those ‘minor’ changes added up to a majorly different feel, *especially* as filtered through the HD filming. on which so many European critics based their “Dumb American”-bashing indignation. The same filter and deletion of nonsense happened with Sher’s ridiculous CONTES, when a lot of the “Kafka” and “Offenbach as Self Hating Jew” stuff Sher had retailed to the NY TIMES vanished right away, and the HD viewers simply did not see a lot of the crap onstage. And they didn’t in TOSCA either.

              An astute poster above stated in re the TOSCA: “As soon as they revived Tosca with a more suitable cast (and cut the most egregious little bits of stage business), people were basically fine with it.” I don’t agree that they were all ‘little”bits by any means, but in essence that is what happened by the time of the excellent Racette (sorry, Feldie)/Jonas/Terfel performances.

            • kashania says:

              That’s the thing about the telecasts (both the Met and BSO). The camera picks and chooses what we see. IIRC, the business with the prostitutes at top of the second act happened mostly off camera in both versions.

            • armerjacquino says:

              Kruno- couldn’t agree more about the Racette/Kaufmann/Terfel TOSCAs. Even only experienced as audio they were tremendously exciting- nearly melted my radio.

              It’s certainly true that a lot of detail is missed in HD transmissions, but I don’t think it’s done to ‘improve’ or ‘correct’ productions. Some people here said that BALLO was filmed in such a way as to minimise the excesses of the production, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar- what I saw in the BALLO HD was that the cameras focused on, y’know, whoever was singing.

              Having appeared in (and subsequently seen) 2 NT Lives now, what I would class as the one drawback of the Live in HD thing is the way that little production details, moments and choices get missed all over the place. It’s unfortunate and inevitable but not, I think, deliberate.

            • La Cieca says:

              I will say that the followspot business is something that seems to happen across most productions at the Met: it seems that Peter Gelb really wants to see faces. So revivals of even those stygian Gil Wechsler shows from the 1990s now have the followspots much cranked up.

              As for the motivation for the changes in the Tosca staging, it’s hard to say. I tend to lean toward “this didn’t work” rather than “this was too shocking.” I didn’t think Bondy’s production was particularly wrong-headed: there is a lot to be said for a seamy, unglamorous Tosca especially in reaction to the previous Zeffirelli uncritical splendor. The problem rather was that the direction seemed inept and, if I can be permitted to attempt to read M. Bondy’s mind for a moment, untrusting of the basic theatricality of the piece. It’s a very nicely crafted melodrama, and that is I think the secret of its lasting appeal, i.e., as a thrill ride. I don’t think the piece lends itself to being taken serious as drama or deconstruction either: the material just doesn’t have enough depth to survive close examination.

            • Krunoslav says:

              Ben detto, Cieca!

            • ML says:

              Changes (simplifications) were made to Act III last month, vs. other runs from Dec. 2010. Didn’t see the NY or Munich filmed performances (2009 and 2010), so can’t comment.

  • redbear says:

    This has nothing to do with nothing but when I Googled “Stagehand Salary” these two things came up:
    From the website: https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk
    “Full-time stagehands could earn between £12,000 and £15,000 a year.
    However, many stagehands work on a freelance or casual basis. Pay rates can vary widely. You could negotiate your rate based on the type of production and your own experience and skills.
    Figures are intended as a guideline only.”
    From the Independent in 2012.
    “The most prestigious theatre company in France, the Comédie Française, has been thrown into confusion over a 332-year-old pay agreement…..A junior stage hand earns only €20,000 (£16,500) a year.”

    • armerjacquino says:

      ‘Stagehand’ means something different in the UK to the US. In the US it’s more of an umbrella term for various skilled and unskilled jobs. Over here it’s used (when it’s used- it’s quite an archaic term and has been largely replaced by ‘show crew’) purely to mean someone employed on a show by show basis to rig, derig and do the odd scene change.

    • Howling in Tune says:

      Aren’t salary figures in France, as they’re usually quoted, after taxes?

      To Americans, used to quoting salary figures before taxes, €20,000 annually sounds like barely above subsistence level, at least in a big city.

      €20,000 in take-home pay, though modest, doesn’t seem entirely impossible to live on.

      • oedipe says:

        Aren’t salary figures in France, as they’re usually quoted, after taxes?

        Well, not really. But some confusion may arise from the fact that there are two main types of taxes: “charges sociales”, which are withholding taxes of about 20% of a person’s salary, and “impôt sur le revenu”, which are steeply progressive taxes that are computed and payed at the end of the salary period. In general, low salaries pay almost no “impôt sur le revenu”, so if the quoted salary is understood AFTER “charges sociales”, then it is pretty much equal to the take-home pay.

        • redbear says:

          And, of course, health-care costs are not an issue in France. There is also a general understanding that a career in the arts is not one to make you wealthy. Members of major orchestras in Europe are agog at the salaries of their friends in America. Government financing of the arts also likely kept a lid on salaries. While the backstage forces at the Paris Opera are unionized and active, none of them are making six figures.

  • Will says:

    Another difference between American and European audiences and opera companies is that in Europe there is a more flexible attitude toward productions — concepts are routinely tried out and then replaced with a recognition that there is no single, fixed meaning or interpretation of the material; debate over art is a given and controversy is an accepted part of the relationship between the seats and the stage. This approach was very much at the heart of the way Wieland and Wolfgang Wagner set up the post-war Bayreuth Festival. Each opera gets its prescribed run, with some revisions each year, and is then ditched, soon to be brought back completely rethought by somebody else.

    Americans to a great degree still want to see what they’ve always seen, like a child who wants the same bedtime story night after night, or several times in the same night. If a production fails then the general director has failed and (s)he’s condemned as not knowing how to run the company, for hating opera, etc., etc.

    But one major and very difficult problem remains--that “popular culture” does not value the arts, looks on opera and classical music — indeed, sophistication of any kind — as as elitist and, that most damning of put-downs, uncool. And nobody wants to be uncool.

    • Cicciabella says:

      Undoubtedly, American opera audiences tend to be more conservative. Maybe conservative is what they’ve mostly been offered up to now? But there are many European opera goers who also favour traditional productions. You notice this when they see the rare traditional production: sighs of relief, nods of approval and Cheshire cat grins abound during intermission. Many Europeans hate extreme Regie productions, and are not shy about saying so and blogging about it. Witness the outrage this week in Bayreuth at Castorf’s Ring, frightening poor Lance Ryan out of his wits (http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/aerger-bei-den-bayreuther-festspielen-so-wird-ein-buh-draus/10277134.html). However, what is pelted with tomatoes today can become run-of-the-mill tomorrow. Opera must reinvent itself for every generation, like all the other performing arts.

      A big difference between Europe and America is that European houses, many of which are heavily subsidised by tax money, continue to offer non-traditional productions, booing and protests be damned, whereas the Met and other American houses are more hesitant to do so. In Europe there are also traditional alternatives for people who can’t abide modern productions. Regional theatres often host visiting opera companies from Eastern Europe who put on frills-and-brocade shows. These companies keep returning every year, so the performances must sell. Moreover, the huge distances between big American cities probably mean that audiences have fewer alternatives to the major opera houses. Therefore, the Met has to be all operatic things to all kinds of people: connoisseurs, newbies, occasional visitors, tourists, culture vultures, sophisticates and Bocelli fans. On top of this they must please their donors and keep wining and dining them for renewed support. A very tough mandate.

      I’m afraid classical music, and especially opera, is as uncool in Europe as it is in North America. Its appearance on mainstream media has been reduced to vacuous talent shows, as a musical cue in thrillers ushering in the grisly villain and to underscore news items about tragedies and funerals. Here in Holland, ballet audiences are significantly younger than opera audiences, probably thanks tonthat self-perpetuating phenomenon: the ballet mum. Chamber music audiences are aging and dwindling. Lovers of the lied are passionate but definitely in a minority: even A “name” such as Garanca couldn’t fill the Concertgebouw with a lieder programme. The Dutch National Opera has recently introduced a new pricing scale: subscriptions prices are fixed, but single ticket prices rise if a production proves popular. This means that subscription holders could get a discount for popular productions. I don’t exactly know how this works, or if it’s working: the recent performances I’ve been to, although very well attended, were not completely sold out. This is just one example of a European house trying to stimulate subscription sales. Creative and varied season programming is not enough to fill the house.

      I wish the Met management and employees the best in resolving their dispute and finding ways to increase, renew and rejuvenate their audience.

      • oedipe says:

        Cicciabella,

        Not so sure about Lance Ryan’s motives. Having just listened to the broadcast, and having read some blogger unflattering opinions about him, it may well be that the audience was angrier at his wobbly, legato-less singing and interruptus high notes than at the production…

        • Cicciabella says:

          Whatever the reason, Ryan was quaking in his heldenboots. The critics are already milder about Castorf than they were last year. His Ring could become a Regie classic in time. Not having seen it, I can’t comment on its merits.

        • phoenix says:

          The flat top Lance Ryan & the missing mid-range Catherine Foster. Bad Ring broadcasts this season. In spite of Edith Haller’s Elsa repeatedly searching for the true identity of the pitch at hand, she still has more basic tone left in her voice than the tired-out Foster, who is approaching Susan Bullock territory at the moment.

      • kashania says:

        I watched a TV broadcast of Tcherniakov’s highly conceptual Trovatore. I am fan of his work and found the production interesting and well acted, but it was ultimately a very frustrating experience and it just didn’t work. But what really struck me is that when Tcherniakov came out for his solo bow, he was greeted by bravos, not a single boo!

        The performance was from La Monnaie in Brussels. Those Belgians are clearly very sophisticated. :)

        This is not to suggest that some European audiences don’t want traditional productions. And goodness knows, vociferous booing is a regular part of any Bayreuth Festival (just as an example). But I know that, in Toronto, the director of such a heavily conceptual production would not be cheered during curtain calls.

  • BelCantoDiva says:

    I don’t hear the word “binding” arbitration, so this. Could go off the skids at any point. Unless it IS binding and I somehow missed it.

  • Jamie01 says:

    Has the labor dispute claimed its first victim? The Met’s link to the Summer HD Festival is dead, and the dates don’t show up on its calendar for August.

    http://www.metopera.org/metopera/summer-events?src=nfbuc