How opera companies put the squeeze on their artistsmain
You’ve heard about the letter Peter Gelb sent out, asking Metropolitan Opera singers to slash their fees.
He is not alone.
Several British companies have done the same.
Here is a candid, regretful letter sent to artists and agencies earlier this year by David Pountney, head of Welsh National Opera. Mark it as a sign of our times.
I apologise for writing to you on the subject of money, but we have reached a point where we are obliged to involve everyone with whom we are working with the evolving financial reality.
You have probably been aware of a series of announcements of cuts by the Arts Councils (we are funded by both Wales (ACW) and England (ACE)), some of them “in year” cuts – i.e. cuts made to an already agreed level of funding within the year to which the funding applies….
We have been sustaining our artistic programme over the last two years and up to 2016 by judicious use of our reserves. This will not be an option beyond 2016 as these will be exhausted. During this period, our permanent staff have had either very low or no pay rises so that their average earnings have also fallen well behind inflation.
In addition, since 2007/8 we have reduced our permanent staff by over 60, through non-replacement and redundancy – this is a reduction of 24%.
We have managed to protect our artistic personnel from these redundancies, believing that the orchestra and chorus are essential to the future of the company, though as I say above, these bodies have both endured declining financial rewards.
Sadly, in the future, we can no longer protect either the artistic personnel or the programme from the effects of the financial reality, as the base line from which we are now operating does not give us any other direction to turn in the future.
As a result we are regretfully asking our artistic partners to take some small share in this situation. We believe that on the whole you would probably prefer that we are able to continue with projects at a slightly reduced rate of reward, rather than abandon them altogether, for as long as that is at all possible. We are therefore asking all our guest artists in every area to agree to a 5% reduction in your contractually agreed fees.
This is a polite request because of course you already have contracts. That is the pernicious aspect of the “in-year” cuts we are receiving. You are of course at liberty to refuse, or to withdraw from your contracts altogether. But in all honesty, I hope it is clear to you what the long term consequences must then be for the Company. There is really no further place to hide.
This is not a confidential letter, but an open request. I am happy if you feel inclined to share this letter with others, as I think it is helpful for our funders and our partners of all kinds to know and to understand the situation that we are facing in the immediate future. I hope I can count on your understanding and good will. By all means also feel free to challenge anything I have said. We are all in this situation together, and I favour direct communication and open debate.