Lyric Opera calls strike ‘unnecessary and harmful’

Two hours after the orchestra walked out, Chicago’s Lyric Opera has confirmed it is strikebound.

You read the statement here first:
CHICAGO (10/9/2018) – The Chicago Federation of Musicians (CFM) Local #10-208 is on strike at Lyric Opera. This unnecessary and harmful action may require Lyric to cancel performances. Ryan Opera Center, Lyric Unlimited and other related activities also will be affected. Additional updates will be provided as these determinations are made.

We apologize for the inconvenience and losses this disruption creates for our patrons, donors, partners and other dedicated employees, and are doing everything possible to protect as much of our season. That said, Lyric simply cannot agree to the terms CFM demands, given our current financial circumstances. Our proposed changes are necessary to ensure Lyric’s survival as a world-class opera company providing a diverse range of cultural entertainment to communities throughout Chicago.

We offered CFM wage increases in exchange for a reduction in guaranteed work weeks that better aligns with audience demand and increased scheduling flexibility that will allow us to access additional rental income. The leadership of our other two unions – the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) – recognized the need for these essential changes and have agreed to multi-year agreements. Only CFM refused. Lyric urges CFM to continue to talk and perform.

As of now, the situation is deadlocked.

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  • “We offered CFM wage increases…” This is simply a lie. Their pay will decrease nearly 10% under the proposed contract. A slightly higher weekly rate more than offset by a reduced schedule is not a “wage increase”. In the era of Trump, those with power and money are completely untethered by any conventional notions of human decency and decorum. Honesty is for suckers.

  • Lyric is misstating the facts. Lyric is not offering “wage increases” — it is demanding a pay cut of 8%, the elimination of 5 orchestra musicians, a reduction in performance weeks, and the elimination of all radio broadcasts.
    Similarly, Lyric claims the musicians haven’t given them “increased scheduling flexibility,” but we actually offered them exactly that, months ago.
    Lyric is lying because it wants to distract from what it is actually doing with its cut-and-slash agenda — demolishing Lyric Opera, and asking the musicians to pay for the demolition.

  • I stand with the musicians. How can the management balloon the seasonal budget by over 24 million and then offer the musicians a decrease in salary and size. It sounds like the Lyric needs a management overhaul and push out the greed. Why is the artists that always suffer during a “financial crisis”? They are consistently doing their jobs well. Management needs to get their story straight.

  • Freud’s leadership here must be questioned with mouth agape. What are he and management thinking? Anyone in the arts knows you don’t address your budget by cutting orchestra pay and orchestra weeks.

    Eliminate the radio broadcasts? An asinine proposal since WFMT’s broadcasts of Lyric Opera are heard world wide.

  • The administration’s sickeningly twisted rhetoric in this statement obscures the stark reality laid out well by William Cernota above. The fact that there are 4 performances of Siegfried this year and probably ten times that of the money-making West Side Story shows the direction in which Lyric Opera is moving under its current leadership. As a (now former) donor, I’m disgusted that the consistently excellent orchestra is being treated this way. Weren’t they up for an international award just a few months ago? Kudos to the Lyric Opera Orchestra for standing up to Freud’s threats in the name of the artistic excellence for which the institution is known.

    • Heavens, we wouldn’t want them to do anything that actually makes money, would we? You know, to support the other expensive stuff?

      • If it means moving the Lyric to a theater for Broadway shows, no, indeed, we wouldn’t want them to do this. Last time I looked the main mission of the Lyric was to bring opera to Chicago, NOT to make money and NOT to stage Broadway stuff. Nothing against West Side Story. Great show. But the core of the Lyric and its performances should be something else, for God’s sake!

        • Why do you think you don’t get a Ring cycle every year? It’s too expensive. Opera companies around the world put on operas that they know will be easy money so they can afford the stuff that is more expensive and/or won’t sell as many tickets. An opera company that does not pay attention to the costs and revenues will not be able to mount quality productions for long. It is reasonable to quibble with the choices they make, but not reasonable to quibble with the reason for them.

        • “the main mission of the Lyric was to bring opera to Chicago, NOT to make money”

          Look, I completely agree about the mission and also want opera, not Broadway. But we can’t both demand less of the stuff that brings money and more pay for everyone involved.

          • You would be right, were it not for the budget increasing by some $20M between ’16-’17 (last year numbers are available). If you’re going to spend that much more, there is no way that ticket sales will compensate. I am all for Boheme/Traviata/Butterfly/Rigoletto/West Side/Carousel et al, but not with an increase in budget that drains the coffers, and especially if the increase in budget isn’t being allocated to musicians both stage and pit.

        • @Opus131, that’s as maybe, but the theatre they’ve got doesn’t lend itself to either of those propositions. So they need to make what they’ve got work.

        • Oh, I am sure those ideas will be coming to Lyrics stage soon. I believe I saw pole dancing in Damnation of Faust on that very stage. Cheap. Trashy. No stars. Sounds like Lyric. It’s why I haven’t been back since.

      • It’s funny, you listen to a certain group of audience members and the only solution to them is: (1) pay the artists more, and (2) do the things that actually make money less.

        • See my comment below. I’m not saying “Do less of the things that make money.” That’s ridiculous. I’m saying that money should never be made by lowering the quality of the artistic product.

  • Of course every arts organization mounts productions that make money. That’s how one ensures that one’s musicians get paid and one’s general manager makes $800,000 annually. As regards paying attention to costs and revenue, there’s a HUGE difference between safeguarding income through conservative programming (like, say, La bohème) and reducing expenses by slashing musician costs and lowering artistic standards. The one thing that has been consistent over the 25 years I’ve been attending Lyric Opera of Chicago productions is the quality of the orchestra. Play West Side Story (which I agree is a great show) until the cows come home–just pay your musicians, too.

  • It’s hard to make the case for the cost and artistic uniqueness of the Lyric when Riccardo Muti is in the same town and the Chicago Symphony can put on concert operas at a fraction of the cost while getting the same talent and getting better international press…

    • And don’t forget that I can go to my local movie theater and hear the MET for $25. I can take popcorn and beer into the theater, there’s plenty of free parking, and I get a better artistic experience much of the time.

      For $25 in a live setting like Lyric, I’m up in the cheap seats where I can’t see or hear as well as in the movie house. Plus I then have to pay for parking. A drink at intermission is well over $10 with tip (and there are two intermissions often).

      All in all, technology is catching up with the performing arts and perhaps we only need a few “world class” opera companies for the 3% of population that enjoys this art form.

      • This is misguided at best. Movie theater live broadcasts pale in comparison to a live concert experience. Arguing a higher artistic experience watching a movie is laughable. Get real!

        • As a regular Met opera in HD goer the I know that the cinema with incredible filming and the interviews and great sound is a better experience than being in the nosebleed section.

          Perhaps the professional musician knows the difference between live sound in the auditorium and the film but the average non musician cannot tell the difference.

          However, if one is up close and has some sort to feeling of connection with the orchestra and singers the live opera is better. It is like the difference between non musical theater and film. The film is probably better than the rear balcony but not front seats or the small “black box” theater

        • I go to live concerts too. I listen to the radio as well. I don’t need a live experience to enjoy my music. I only need a great performance that I find exciting and affordable.

          Big organizations like the CSO and Lyric are supported by their boards and trustees.

          Not the ticket holders and certainly not the penny ante donors who are apt to decry the strike and “withhold” their donations in a sign of protest. Large donations are what make these organizations fly.

          In this situation, it’s obvious that the board of the Lyric Opera has decided that they want a change in how they employ their orchestra.

          The Intendant is just the grocery delivery boy. I’m sure that he is carrying out the wishes of the board. Why would he want a strike if he could avoid it? It makes his job harder not easier.

          It will be interesting to see who caves in first since these type of strikes are so damaging to the institution that both sides serve.

          It will also be interesting to see what kind of public support is out there for the musicians since most working class people have experienced the same issue of stagnant wage growth since 2011.

      • I’ve gone to maybe 10 Met HD movie theater shows and have always been disgusted by the audience, crunching plastic bags, chomping popcorn and swigging beer. Also the closeups are too extreme and the sound is not at all even similar to what you hear in an opera house.

    • The CSO usually puts on one opera a season. With no staging, no scenery, no props, and no costumes. They are wonderful events, but to say that this obviates the need for a world-class opera company in Chicago is ludicrous.

  • The musicians currently work 24 weeks? What do they do the rest of the time? On average, how much are they paid for 24 weeks?

    • “What do they do the rest of the time?” Typically a professional musician is spending 1-2 hours a day practicing, which may include learning music for their jobs or simply maintaining their skills. This is 7 day a week, 365 days a year commitment. Many musicians teach professionally in universities and community music schools or privately. If you’re a Lyric Opera musician you’re probably trying to keep your free lance options open so you may see them with other orchestras around town. This requires additional preparation time and rehearsal. They might turn up playing at a wedding, a party, corporate event or your grandmother’s funeral.
      These musicians also may have families and the struggle of caring for young children and aging parents all while committed to bringing their very best to their performances every single time.

      • There’s no reason to justify what they get paid. Whatever they get paid, they deserve. They all have masters degrees and are entitled to whatever the market bears. Sadly, this is an example of the market being manipulated by LOC.

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