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French contralto attacks festival for ‘almost no pay’

July 24, 2017 by norman lebrecht

27 comments.


The Slovak born singer Sacha Hatala has gone public today on the appalling rates that are being paid at some French music festivals to hardworking professionals.

On Friday, Sacha sang at the International Festival of Baroque and Romantic Music at Beaune. For three days of rehearsals and a four-hour performance as Pelopida in Alessandro Scarlatti’s Il Mitridate with the Orchestre Les Accents conducted by Thibault Noally. The opera was recorded for broadcast this week by France-Musique.

For this intensive effort, Sacha was paid the princely sum of €256.46. That’s less than $60 a day.

She skipped meals in Beaune in order to have some money left to bring home to her family.

Is this low pay even legal? she demands.

Here’s her open letter:

LETTRE OUVERTE, au SFA, Syndicat Français des Artistes
Le Festival International de Musique Baroque et Romantique de Beaune : Des Escrocs !
Les défraiements (remboursements ou prise en charge des frais inévitablement engagés)
Le cauchemar du Musicien Classique et du Chanteur Lyrique :
Comment la Loi du Silence est en train de tuer le Métier.

Bonjour,

Je viens tout juste de « me faire arnaquer » par l’organisation du Festival International de Musique Baroque et Romantique de Beaune, et je me tourne donc vers Vous Tous, trop amère et écœurée, afin de tenter la sauvegarde du minimum de dignité nécessaire à la poursuite de mon Métier de Chanteuse Lyrique que j’aime passionnément.

J’ai ainsi chanté « quasi gratuitement » avant-hier, vendredi 21 juillet 2017 à la Basilique de Beaune, le rôle de Pelopida en tant que Contralto, dans l’opéra Il Mitridate de Scarlatti, avec l’Orchestre Les Accents dirigé par Thibault Noally.
Ce concert sera d’ailleurs retransmis le 26 juillet prochain sur France Musique.

Vous trouverez en pièce jointe, la lettre que j’ai adressée hier même et par mail à Monsieur Kader Hassissi, Directeur du Festival.
Par ailleurs, vous constaterez que dans ma Note de Frais, je n’ai pas mentionné de repas !
En effet, en comprenant plus précisément les conditions de mon engagement, j’ai préféré jeuner pendant quatre jours, pour essayer de ne pas revenir les mains totalement vides face à mes trois garçons en bas âge et face à mon époux, le crédit de notre maison continuant lui à courir……
De façon moins pleurnicharde, et très sérieusement, aujourd’hui mes questions sont les suivantes :
– Un tel contrat est-il légal ?
– Une chanteuse lyrique, à qui un Festival propose un rôle soliste avec Orchestre dans une œuvre captée et retransmise par France Musique, peut-elle se retrouver au final avec 256,46 € pour trois jours de répétitions et un Concert de presque quatre heures ?
– Dans ces conditions, l’organisation du Festival n’est-elle pas bien en dessous du seuil des minimas de rémunération prévu par la Convention Collective ?
Pour finir, fille d’immigrés Slovaques réfugiés politiques en France en 1968, mes parents n’ont pas décidé d’abandonner leur pays en fuyant un régime totalitaire – Tchécoslovaquie 1968 – pour que leur fille se retrouve victime d’un vol dans un Etat de droit, sans oser rien dire car le Silence est la loi du milieu.
La peur de parler tue notre profession ; nous sommes isolés et fragilisés, retranchés dans un état de précarité extrême.
Si nous osons dénoncer les conditions inacceptables dans lesquelles nous travaillons, nous savons que nous ne serons pas rappelés……
Les employeurs en jouent avec une délectation perverse……et Nous, nous nous taisons !

Je suis trop écœurée pour continuer à chanter dans ces conditions, car il en va de la survie de mon instrument de travail.

Merci par avance de votre compréhension et de votre aide.

Sacha Hatala

UPDATE: The festival responds.


Comments (27)

  1. Mary Craven says:

    I don’t understand…are fees not negotiated and agreed up front?
    Having organized concerts for an amateur ensemble, some soloists are out of our price range, something we know before booking them. Likewise, some soloists are initially interested but refuse to perform for the fee we can afford to pay them, which is entirely understandable. Were there hidden expenses that Mrs Hatala didn’t expect to cover? It sounds like the terms were not made clear to her beforehand

  2. Ungeheuer says:

    Good for her for laying it all out in the open. It is shamefu; the paltry pay, that is.

    1. Alexander says:

      +100

  3. Mike Schachter says:

    Utterly disgraceful. Are not our French friends constantly lecturing us on their devotion to culture?

  4. Tom Moore says:

    Was she unaware of the pay when she accepted the job?

    1. Ellingtonia says:

      Even if she was, that does not make it OK. Many of us have taken jobs during our working lives at less than the market value simply to bring in an income, pay the mortgage and feed the family.

      1. F says:

        But it’s also supply and demand? There are also other means of earning an income. If she hadn’t taken the work and others didn’t then it might change but there is a huge surplus of singers and not many jobs.

    2. AMetFan says:

      Utterly beside the point. I don’t even ask my singer friends about their next job (and some of these are well known names) because it may be their only job in a given season. Try to feed yourself or your family, especially when the pay is woefully paltry. Just think for a moment that this young woman had to skip meals in order to bring something home. The director of this festival should have the good conscience to at least reply publicly. Let’s not hold our breath…

      1. AMetFan says:

        This attached to the wrong thread. It was intended for “F”.

  5. Stephen Chaundy says:

    Why would she have accepted these terms?
    (French is not my best language so is there something I am missing in the letter?).

  6. Mark Henriksen says:

    That’s chump change for what she provided.

  7. F says:

    Don’t accept the work?

  8. Jeffrey E. Salzberg says:

    I certainly agree that artists should be paid better, but I’m struck by the irony of this, in light of previous discussions on this blog in which commentators who were absolutely sure that they understood technicians’ jobs, but who obviously did not, decried those people’s also getting a fair wage.

  9. Christodoulou says:

    What a pity that the arts do not pay talented artists who produce so much enjoyment and pleasure a tenth of what bankers get with their get rich quick schemes and mounting debts.

  10. RAZZ MATAZZ says:

    Shameful! The Beaune Festival is a well known Baroque music festival. Perhaps the organizers are arrogant enough to think that the artists should be sufficiently honoured to perform there that they don’t need paying as well! If this is how soloists are remunerated, I dread to think about what sort of pay the orchestra members of Les Accents went home with.

  11. Ruben Greenberg says:

    A free-lance musician bears this label because he is expected to work for free!

  12. Plush says:

    Shameful and a world wide trend. Why does management pronounce the words, “stupendous,” “visionary,” or “remarkable,” while giving such low pay?

  13. JOG says:

    The other problem is, is that singers that accept these fees cause a downward trend in payscale for the rest of us. If companies want professionals, then they have to pay decent fees and singers must accept nothing less. Otherwise, stick with a student for your so called festival and call yourself amateurs.

  14. David Boxwell says:

    I’m puzzled why the Beaune Festival’s website lists a different singer (a countertenor named Leandro Marziotte, who has not deleted that appearance from his own site) in the role of Pelopida. Was she a last-minute sub (and hence the low fee)?

  15. V. Lind says:

    Anybody had a look at the budget of this Festival, and its source(s) of revenue? Is someone walking off with a juicy payday while legitimate artists are paid pittances? With public arts cuts (even in France; ref. Macron) a lot of arts organisations have tiny margins.

    I think it is lousy that artists are not paid what they are worth. And I think they are worth a lot more than apparently a good chunk of the public, who have no problem with compensation for the aforementioned bankers and the like. But I agree that an artists who negotiates a miserly fee and then whinges about it is not sporting much leverage.

    I know thy have to earn. It is the public’s loss if a talented artist has to give it up in order to eat, but I have known singers working as waitresses all day and dashing off to perform Mimi at night with professional companies. At a certain stage in many lives demands outweigh supply, and those with courage find solutions. The world does not owe anyone a living, and it does not have an obligation to create high-paid employment for everyone who wants to sing, dance, paint, write. Unfortunately, we live in a market economy and can only pay what the market will bear. It is cruel that sports stars can earn enough to fund an entire orchestra for a year, but until there is the demand for opera that there is for football, that’s how it will be.

  16. AndrewB says:

    I am amazed to look at Slipped disc and find this article this evening. I have worked with Sacha and her husband in a different musical context. They are charming and very talented people. If you look at the Bach Cantatas website biography of Sacha you will find out more about her career and studies.
    Sacha has made the effort to complain and bring this situation to light. She certainly wouldn’t have done so without an exceptionally good reason. She is a truly professional artist.

  17. MacroV says:

    I’m sure I’m repeating prior comments, but didn’t she know the financial terms before she took the gig? Does she have a manager? Perhaps Google translate misses the subtleties, but the letter provides no additional insight into this, and then goes a bit off the deep end talking about her parents leaving Czechoslovakia back in 1968 – really? Where’s the evidence that the organizers failed to meet any of their obligations?

  18. Nick says:

    This disgrace is not only in France. Look at some festivals in Italy, Switzerland, Germany… Some artists’ remunerations are simply degrading!! And on the other side of the spectrum there are such as Chris Evans…Is he really worth ALL THAT MONEY?!? Apparently, for BBC he is!! What else can one say? A shame.

  19. MWnyc says:

    Just to clarify, the fee the festival paid to Hachala was not €256.46.

    According to the ForumOpera.com article linked to by Razz Matazz –

    – Hachala was indeed a late substitute for Leandro Marziotte;

    – the role in question – Pelopida, a confidante to one of the other characters – appears to be the smallest of the opera’s roles (for what that’s worth);

    – the fee she was paid was €800, with a net amount (after withheld taxes, I presume) of €616;

    – her transportation to Beaune and her lodging expenses during rehearsals were not paid for by the festival, thus leaving her with €256.46 to take home once it was all over.

    Low pay, to be sure, but not quite so miserly as the original post made it seem.

    1. Nick says:

      @MWNYC. A really pathetic statement. And even if it was 800 Euro, is this a decent remuneration for days of artistic work?!? The answer is: NO! NO! NO!
      It is a shame. And it is a shame when an artist takes home some miserable 256.46 Euro!!
      Besides, what kind of an enterprise “a festival” is that that does not pay artists’ accommodations?!? This is unheard of! A joke.

  20. Ariel Dragge says:

    The derisory remuneration is one issue, but I cannot believe that a singer of her experience is so naive as to have no knowledge of contract law before accepting such engagements.


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