Lyric Opera strike: Musicians win Day One

Lyric Opera strike: Musicians win Day One


norman lebrecht

October 10, 2018

The moment the strike began yesterday morning, the musicians were ready with their side of the story – that the Lyric is spending on everything except the orchestra.

It took five hours for the Lyric to respond. When it did, this was what went out:

Thank you for supporting Lyric Opera. Unfortunately, the following performances and events have been canceled due to a strike by the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local #10-208:

-Lyric Uncorked, tonight (October 9) at 6pm
-Puccini’s LA BOHÈME on Thursday, October 11 at 2pm
-Open House Chicago, Saturday, October 13 at 9am
-Opening Night of Mozart’s IDOMENEO on Saturday, October 13 at 7:30pm

We deeply apologize for the inconvenience and we hope you will join us on another date. We ask that current ticket holders check their email for more information.

Thank you again for your support, and please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns. Email Audience Services at or call 312.827.5600 and one of our specialists will assist you.

The public response on the Lyric’s site has been overwhelmingly furious. Samples:
– You thank opera goers for their support, but nearly all of us support the musicians. Whomever manages your social media strategy is doing as terrible a job as managing Lyric the past few years.  I’m incredibly upset that I might not see Idomeno next week.


– My subscription dates from 1955. The Lyric Opera is NOTHING without its orchestra. It is a world-class orchestra and should be treated as such.

– That is a shame. Freud, with his $800,000 annual salary and the musicians begging a for a wage increase by the rate of inflation. I am Lyric Opera Orchestra!


– I find it shameful that as a subscriber and a donor, no communication was sent to your “family.” I can’t believe I had to hear this from an article in Crain’s forwarded by a friend. Where was your rollout and communication plan? Poor management and development!

– Why has “the company general director’s salary increased 18% from 2014 to 2017 to over $800,000[?!]
…his 16% jump in 2016 came immediately after the musicians agreed to a cost-neutral contract with cuts to health care.”

– This Saturday’s performance was going to be attended by the Lyric Youth Council. You are turning away teenagers who are your future donors and subscribers. Shameful and destructive.


  • anon says:

    “general director’s salary $800,000”

    The Met’s general director gets $2+ million (three years ago).

    Chicago Lyric got lucky, it suckered someone to do it for cheap, for 1/3 of the Met.

    Sure, the Board can fire the current GD and see if it can get someone for under $500,000: who can balance the budget, negotiate with the orchestra, put on only serious opera and not West Side Story.

    Good luck.

    • Bill says:

      Yeah, I’m sure it’s not a coincidence or anything, but in pretty much every single one of these high profile strikes where the management has blamed all their woes on the “greedy” musicians over the past 6-7 years, when the strike ended and either the management was forced to change its ways or be replaced by better management that actually did their jobs correctly, those respective organizations have all somehow managed to do better and get their finances in order without having to take it out on the musicians.

      But I’m sure that’s all just a coincidence.

      • Marco says:

        I’m not sure Chicago got such a bargain. Lyric essentially is a part time company, putting on 60 or so performances of 6 or 7 operas per year. The Met, by contrast does roughly 200 performances of 25 or so productions each season.

        • Mark says:

          The MET pit essentially has 2 orchestras worth of salaried players to cover productions, and are among the highest paid in the world. Lyric may have a less intense season, but the number of personal and their salary already reflects that.

    • Marco says:

      Not sure Chicago got a bargain. The Met does 180-200 performances of 25 or so productions per year. By comparison, Lyric, which does maybe 60 total performances or so of 6 or 7 operas, effectively is a part time company.

    • Mike says:

      Lyric had a successful General Director who did all of that. He made half of what Mr. Freud makes just 6 years ago. He retired and now, Lyric is stuck with a failure AND a bloated salary.

      Also, the Met Opera produces 26 operas a year, manages even more unions, and is in New York.

      I know for a fact Lyric could find a new general director that loves and believes in opera as an art form,you wouldly make half of his salary, and be twice as successful. Look to Lyric Opera Kansas City, St. Louis Opera, Santa Fe Opera, or Washington National Opera.

    • JeanS says:

      The comparison to the Met has no merit. Their annual budget is more than triple the budget of the Lyric, and the Met does a much longer season.

    • Max Grimm says:

      “Chicago Lyric got lucky, it suckered someone to do it for cheap, for 1/3 of the Met.”
      Anon, your comparison and argument are neither valid, nor sound.
      Usually, if someone got “suckered to do it for cheap”, they don’t end up being one of the top 5 highest paid people in that role in an entire country (which according to publicly available tax data, he is).

      “Sure, the Board can fire the current GD and see if it can get someone for under $500,000…”
      Apart from the San Francisco Opera, the Met, the LA Opera and Dallas Opera, opera GDs in the USA don’t seem to earn >$500.000 .

    • RS says:

      By no means I’m a fan of Mr. Gelb but he is cutting his own salary in recent years. He makes $1.5M in 2016, according Met’s most recently tax filing

  • BillG says:

    A friend, retired General no less, once observed “management gets the unions it deserves.”

  • Peter Dg says:

    Not sure how the comments work here. There are several articles about The Lyric strike. My comment: As a substantial donor I’m very disappointed in the artistic direction the current management has taken. They spend much attention on community engagement which is not advancing musical excellence and they are favoring “euro-trash” staging with emphasis on current social issues, not what the composer had in mind. So sad to have USA’s second opera company (and in some aspects the best) taken down the drain. We need a new director, but it looks like this season is trashed. But it was not all that promising anyway.

  • OperaLover says:

    Opera companies should do OPERA and do it well. Freud has no sense of beauty. Just produce beautiful operas, that’s your one job.

  • Harold Kupper says:

    We are seeing the continuing Walmartization of the arts and higher education. The vulture capitalist model that screws over the people who actually do the work of making opera or providing university instruction while gutting job security, pension and other benefits in the name of “sustainability.” Lyric musicians are refusing to see their resident, tenured orchestra go the way of Adjunct/per service status.
    I think it’s clear that these musicians have more commitment and passion for the art form than the people entrusted with its stewardship.

  • Bruce says:

    Lyric Opera’s management is still following the old playbook, it seems: make a big deal about a fundraising drive for something (a building, new productions, etc.) and keep silent about the orchestra, then act like the musicians’ demands came totally out of the blue and blindsided the management when there is no money.

    Make sure to portray the musicians’ greed as the single source of all the company’s problems. Make sure to remind everyone that the musicians belong to a UNION, because unions are bad (boo, hiss), and are devoted only to sucking the life blood out of the organization they are parasitically attached to.

    • Vaquero357 says:

      Well, arts institutions do face the “Edifice Complex.” Donors like to contribute to capital stuff, new buildings, refurbishments of auditoriums, and the like – permanent, physical things their names can be attached to. Something that makes more of a mark on posterity (at least in these donors’ eyes) than being listed as a top donor in a season’s program book.

      • Bruce says:

        When my orchestra had a strike, management followed the same playbook. There were several letters to the editor in the local newspaper to the effect of, “they just had us at a fundraising luncheon last month to raise money for the theater, and they never mentioned the orchestra at all! We would happily have donated to support our orchestra if we’d known.”

        Not that “edifice complex” isn’t real (there were lots of donors who don’t care about music but do care about the restoration of our art deco theater), it’s not necessarily the only factor in play.

        • Vaquero357 says:

          Yep. Thinking of how the Milwaukee Symphony was on the financial ropes a few years ago (time passes, so it was probably more 5 or 6 years!) so badly that there were dire warnings that its future was in jeopardy.

          Then in 2017 they made a deal to buy an old downtown theater and convert it into a concert hall, to the tune of ca. $118 million. Seriously? That’s enough moolah to cover a lot of operating expenses.

          And yes: Management all seem to follow the same playbook in these contract negotiation standoffs. Think of the Detroit Symphony, then the Minnesota lockout, then the Atlanta Symphony….. “We’re outta business unless the musicians agree to enormous cuts, etc.” Then the final agreement is far more reasonable.

          Maybe the players don’t get all the additions they want, but in the cast of Minnesota, the threatened 40% pay cuts didn’t happen either. The new management and the musicians eventually worked together to boost attendance by “leveraging” their best asset in their marketing campaigns: THE MUSICIANS.

  • Fiona says:

    All of the previous general managers at Lyric were musicians, and they made the company a world-class powerhouse. Even during the worst economic downturn in 2009, Lyric Opera live broadcasts were heard world-wide. The current General Mangager, Anthony Freud, is not a musician but a lawyer who, apparently, has a limited understanding of what makes a great opera company great.
    The Orchestra is deeply troubled that the management cancelled the radio broadcasts: this is a step to turn the world-class powerhouse into a regional playhouse. While the Management claims that they could not raise funds, they somehow gave Freud an 18% raise. His salary is now a whopping $ 800,000. The Management proposes to cut $ 6,000.- off each musicians pay, but this is how much Anthony Freud makes EVERY THREE DAYS.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    Arts administrators seem to operate on fear and copy each other’s scared behavior. Oh, we’ve got to focus on social media! What’s the next desperate trend? Everything but art, which is not very promotable.

  • Joan Staples says:

    We love opera. We have attended opera since childhood and now go to Chicago Opera Theater as well. The heart of the opera is not buildings but the music and the theatrical aspects. Also, to build the audience and devotion of the future, it is important to experiment but not sacrifice the heart of the enterprise. The Lyric has had the reputation of being more of a “family” than a corporate operation. Is this accurate? Hope the problem is rectified quickly.

  • William Syverson says:

    Bottom line is, he has to go. AND the little cabal who hired him. They may be ong time ‘supporters “of Lyric, but they no longer belong, and they certainly aren’t welcome to remain.

  • Bob says:

    Lyric’s Recent Statement includes this statement from Anthony Freud:

    “Over the last several years, we have carefully and systematically examined every facet of Lyric’s operations — administrative, artistic, and technical — and created a plan for Lyric’s evolution. Many changes have been made to strengthen our financial position with the goal of protecting the integrity, scale, and power of grand opera for many generations to come. We highly value our musicians — and all of our artists — and want to work with them to secure a strong future for Lyric. These are the issues at the heart of our current contract negotiations.”

    They looked so carefully that they continued to give themselves huge increases. Pay attention to all of this. Not once have they mentioned administrative cuts, not once do they mention that they have taken pay cuts, not once do they justify their huge raises. This is a disgusting abuse of power and ego on display. They created an administrative position that didn’t exist 5 years ago and pay this man $450,000 a year. I guess when they looked carefully, they didn’t consider that either. This same man at an all company meeting was asked why the company’s payroll department continued to have paychecks riddled with mistakes for almost 15 straight months answered that he doesn’t even open his paystubs, so he didn’t have an answer to that question. The management at Lyric is a joke and the public is finally seeing how things work at Lyric. Let’s hope the board has the courage to make a change.

    • Fiona Grady says:

      This is atrocious and I don’t think enough people know about the terrible mismanagement and self-serving that the current Management is responsible for. I certainly did not.