What Placido Domingo is paying his Russian musicians

What Placido Domingo is paying his Russian musicians


norman lebrecht

July 25, 2011

It’s the final in Moscow tonight of Operalia, billed as Placido Domingo: The World Opera Competition.

An orchestra of the finest musicians in the Russian capital is being assembled to accompany the hopeful contenders for the grand prize. Past winners include Erwin Schrott and Rolando Villazon.

A professor at the state university, an acquaintance of mine, was approached to play cor anglais  in the orchestra. He has just told me the pay he was offered for a day’s rehearsal, plus concert.

It was 1,000 rubles. That’s 25 Euros (£20, $30). Apparently most of the orchestra of the Stanislavsky theatre are working for less.

Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world. A coffee costs $10. A whole concert fee can be drunk in rehearsal breaks.

I am publishing the miserable fee scale in order to bring it to Domingo’s attention, assuming he is unaware. Placido is a generous man who often shows solidarity with less fortunate musicians lower down the order, most recently with the locked-out musicians at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. This might be a good occasion once again to demonstrate that humanity.

The final concert will be broadcast online tonight here at 1945 Moscow time.


  • Andrey says:

    Coffee doesn’t cost $10 in most places and fees do differ greatly. If you don’t want to freelance – you don’t have to. Tough but true.

  • Rob Weir says:

    I certainly don’t know what a coffee costs in Moscow but 30 bucks for a day of work? That’s rediculous by almost any standards. The “we’re just lucky to be working” mentality doesn’t apply here nor should it anywhere else. This is exploitive and archaic. Placido, once he is made aware, might make an attempt to rectify this situation. Not good.

  • Tony says:

    I seriously doubt whether PD has anything to do with budgets for orchestral players in this project. No-one should jump on him.

    In the end, we all have the power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – and we should, otherwise there is no resistance to reducing us to the lowest denominator and watching standards plummet in the process. I am sure Placido Domingo says ‘no’ often enough to promoters who do not want to pay his fee.

  • Alex says:

    This exploitive situation is, sadly, everyday practice in Russia, and it will take more than Placido Domingo’s singular act to change this.

  • Jez says:

    “Coffee doesn’t cost $10 in most places and fees do differ greatly. If you don’t want to freelance – you don’t have to. Tough but true.”

    Andrey- you absolute idiot.

    Freelancing is often NOT a choice, it is the very often the only option as a musician. To suggest that musicians can just walk into a job when ever they want is nonsense. And if they can’t….then they freelance.

    Therefore- if you want to support highly skilled musicians being paid a fair wage, why make such a crass comment such as this? Or do you regard top orchestral musicians as relatively unskilled, and therefore undeserving of a proper wage?

    Either make this clear or pipe down sunshine- too often musicians are undervalued and this article is a helpful attempt to draw attention to this

    • Andrey says:

      Jez, thank you for keeping the high standard of conversation. Well done.

      • Jez says:

        Hi Andrey

        Please accept my apology for calling you an idiot- that was uncalled for, written in a heated moment which I should have taken a moment before writing. Sorry about that.

        However- please also accept the strength of feeling from my argument, which I do not retract, that musicians in orchestras are highly skilled and undervalued often without proper representation to negotiate with those who pay them. Not just in Russia, but in many cities and societies. I found your price of coffee comment an un-emapathetic flippant one- and as a musician who freelances, and works with orchestras in london I took it personally.

  • […] Find Norman Lebrecht’s article about the financial difficulty of the orchestral musicians who accompanied the singers in this competition HERE. […]

  • Mariam says:

    It’s outrageous! Even in the “3rd world” country like Thailand they pay you more, even though you get to play in shitty orchestras with idiot conductors.

    Russia needs to develop some kind of professional orchestra unions, like the German DOV. And stop free musical education. This is a highly intellectual work which should be paid for accordingly.

    • dmitry says:

      Mariam, if music education won’t be free no one will give his children to the musical school. Music is not a “highly intellectual work” it’s a language of joy and sadness and anyone should have access to learn it.

      • Irene says:

        If music is ‘language of joy and sadness’ and musicians don’t have to pay their teachers (fellow musicians) for education, then why do you expect anyone to pay you for skills you’ve gained? I mean, since music is not work but ‘language of joy and sadness’ 🙂

  • Stephen Carter says:

    A Moscow friend and regular at the Moscow Conservatory reports that a coffee on the first floor cafe costs 320 roubles – more than $10. Doubtless you can get much cheaper in the city, but the point is that Moscow is not cheap for anyone.

  • Frank says:

    I guess musicians have to live like in the old times, four or five families in one room apartment.

  • Andrey says:

    Sorry, and what did you expect? Russia is a country completely destroyed by West – do you think wages of German musicians in Berlin somewhere in 1946 were bigger? It’s their falt that they allowed to do somethink like this with their country.