Opera star blasts won’t-pay US orchestra

Opera star blasts won’t-pay US orchestra


norman lebrecht

February 20, 2019

From Morris Robinson:

“Very seldom do I call out organizations, but I feel that I must say something. I was so incredibly proud of my DEAR friends who were in this company’s production of Porgy and Bess, that I flew down to Miami on a whim, rented a vehicle, secured a room, bought a ticket, and attended the Premier performance to both support and surprise my colleagues. I thought it was amazing to have this Masterpiece performed in one of my favorite cities and at a venue I was fortunate enough to “Open” years ago with a gala performance and subsequently a long run of Aidas with the Florida Grand Opera.


Prior to my initial venture onto “Catfish Row” I had heard nightmares of how companies often mistreat their cast members and disrespect this Opera. Porgy oft times is utilized to balance the books and sell tickets while the presenting organization simultaneously underpays and mistreats the very talented cast members who make this show a success. Needless to say, I was appalled to learn JUST NOW that over a MONTH after closing the show, my colleagues and friends who gave their ALL on stage have YET to be compensated for their hard work.

I truly feel that if we as artists sit silently by and allow these things to continuously happen without repercussion, companies will CONTINUE to use up, then toss aside the very people who make this show a fan favorite.

In my humble opinion, if the General Manager and VP, and Casting Director, and Conductor etc are getting their monthly salaries, the PERFORMERS should be getting paid as well.

South Florida Symphony, PAY my friends. Pay your artists. Company leadership, get your act together and do the right thing! You had an EXCELLENT Cast and they gave incredible performances. Don’t take performers for granted.

Stop mistreating BLACK PERFORMERS!!!!!!!

You’re in South Florida … there’s money in South Florida. With all the Limousines and Fur Coats I saw pulling up at the Ziff, the money is THERE … pay the Singers!!!”




  • Me! says:

    I don’t know when singers are normally paid, and obviously something re this is in their contracts, and unlikely treat black and white casts differently but obviously a problem for performers to not be promptly paid and good for him for publicizing this, disinfectant of light and all and a perfect outgrowth of #metoo, standing up for basic professionalism and respect

  • Nick2 says:

    This is a disgrace. The Artists create the performance for the audience. They should be the first to be paid. Perhaps opera companies, especially smaller ones, will have to go back to the old system of paying artists in cash at the intermission. No cash – no last act!

    Which reminds me of a tale about the recording of the ENO Ring cycle in the 1970s which I believe is true. Prior to the performances, it had been agreed that for the recording the principal singers would be paid more or less pro rata according to the amount of time on stage. How this was worked out, I have no idea. But the story goes that by the time they got to Siegfried, Alberto Remedios had been singing his heart out since near the start of Act 1. At the second intermission, Rita Hunter refused to leave her dressing room until it was agreed she be paid the same recording fee as Remedios. Lord Harewood had to be summoned from his box. Eventually Ms. Hunter got her way and Act 3 started late.

  • Marg says:

    This is totally outrageous. No other word for it.

  • Robert says:

    O dear….. you spoke … that will be the end….you see, those who speak will get “black listed” and you have now tuff times ahead. The “click” will talk with the other “clicks” and before you know it the whole business, who is mostly run by power hungry highschool bully types will make sure you will never be hired again. What else do you think they talk about at those opera conferences ?

    I agree 100% with you and your quest, problem is not you it is the business called opera and those worm like people who have those cushy jobs sitting in some room pretending to do work, collecting a SALARY while moving papers from one side of the desk to the other and talking about you, on their FACEBOOK. Tragic.

    small advice, you must stay busy now and network with every person who ever hired you, gave you a chance and don’t wait for work to come to you, you must stay proactive and go forward ! you must try to fill your work load until this will pass.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Unlikely. It’s Florida, no influence on the rest of the sector.

      • Robert says:

        norman, everyone starts out somewhere…. people move on today quicker than ever… and news is gossip as you know are a click and upload away…. don’t underestimate this very posting…..

    • Morris says:

      I’m not worried about being re hired. There is never a WRONG time to do the RIGHT thing.

      I have been blessed beyond measure, and I dont work for Companies who don’t pay their singers.

      This organization has a history of such, and based on their financial capabilities, I’m certain that their influence on the industry doesn’t amount to much.

      Thank you for your concern, but to whom much is given, much is required.

      This, I felt, was the right thing to do and I’ve done so unapologetically.

      I hope they do the right thing!!!!


      • Phil says:

        The orchestra has not been paid yet, either…This is not an opera or a race situation. The South Florida Symphony still owes instrumentalists from November and December and won’t even return phone calls. Singers and Musicians: Stick together and don’t let people take advantage of us just because we love our craft!!!

    • Bobby says:

      Lol. Morris Robinson is easily the best singing bass in opera right now. His career is in zero danger. Even with this post

    • Guest says:

      Robert, the reason why people get away with doing this to the hard working people in this industry is because of spineless people like you that are too scare to speak up about the injustice!

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    If this is true it’s a disgrace but S Florida has a history of screwing musicians.

    The Miami Orchestra was basically cast aside when it was decided that it would be better to have the Cleveland Orchestra come down and do brief week long residencies in Miami.

    Now the Cleveland Orchestra has left and there is no resident orchestra in that community.

    It is a sad testimony to that area since it does have a good deal of money and wealthy Snow Birds who winter down in the area

    • Bruce says:

      I understood it was the New World Symphony that accomplished most of that task, before Cleveland ever came into the picture. But still.

    • Saul Davis Zlatkovski says:

      I think it was before that, when the New World Symphony decided to masquerade as a professional orchestra.

  • Grace says:

    At one small professional performing organization with which I once sang, the payroll was processed once a month. So that meant that (for example) if pay checks were issued on the first of the month, and your performance was on the 2nd, you’d have to wait until the next payroll cycle to receive your check. I’m not saying it’s ideal, and certainly it would be nice to hand checks to people the moment they finish a gig. But sometimes there are administrative issues that have nothing to do with funds on hand and nothing to do with the performers or the performance or the nature of the broader community. I know nothing about this specific case, just adding this context to the discussion.

    • SP says:

      This has extended beyond the paydate stated in their contract. Way beyond it. The singers are getting excuses from the company saying “we don’t have the money right now, but we’ll pay you as soon as we do.” They’re also just not answering calls and emails sent from the artists.
      This has nothing to do with when they cut their checks.

      • MD says:

        This has happened several times with this same orchestra. Dozens of musicians once waited a year and a half for their paychecks, with a similar lack of communication. (The year and a half was pretty extreme but the normal wait was about 8 months to a year.)

      • Bruce says:

        ^ I was going to say: if they were still within the agreed-upon time window, nobody would be complaining yet.

        Not as good an example, but I’ve been a soloist with my orchestra several times. Musicians are paid on the 15th and then again on the final day of the month. The cutoff date for what you’re getting paid for is a few days before the 15th or 30th. Last season I played as a soloist; my performances were on, I believe, the 11th and 12th. My paycheck on the 15th was the normal size; it wasn’t until the 30th that I got paid. HOWEVER, and this is important, this was made clear to me, along with a “call the finance officer if there’s a problem with your paycheck on the 30th.” If the 30th had come and gone with no extra $$, you can bet I would have made some noise about it.

  • NYYgirl says:


  • Danielle says:

    This is appalling. Let’s be honest – exploiting black labor for profit sounds a whole lot like what’s already been abolished. People don’t pay bills by exposure.

  • Bruce says:

    You hear more in the media about racism and racist behavior in other Southern states (Georgia, the Carolinas, Mississippi etc.), but “the force” is still extremely strong in Florida. The idea that there is a racist component to this episode is, sadly, all too believable.

    • Mick the Knife says:

      Read above; musicians not paid from Nov and Dec. I doubt they are all black, so apparently this is financial irresponsibility and not racism.

  • Helmut Fischer says:

    Black racists and victim mongers whining again and reducing everything to skin colour. So boring.

    Of course not getting paid in a timely manner is a nuisance or worse, but what in earth has it to do with ethnicity?

    • Kathleen Kelly says:

      Companies regularly market their P&Bs along with a lot of language about commitment to diversity. They’ll use black performers in that way. To then not pay them is definitely something more than simple unacceptable business practice. Believe black performers when they tell you that they experience a whole variety of problems in conjunction with this piece.

      • Miami Musician says:

        Although I know discrimination is real, being black has nothing to do with it (this time). I’m not quite sure why the author felt the need to say to stop mistreating black performers as the SFSO mistreats ALL of its musicians.

    • BourgeoiSinger95 says:

      I’m sad artist management has completely supplanted your usual work of harassing people crossing bridges. You’re a blight.

    • AJaneJane says:

      “…white privileged male whining again about how everyone but him is too sensitive about race… how typical.”

      It absolutely *is* a racial issue. Read up on your history to see how black performers have been treated over the years. This organization and ignorant comments like yours, sir, are only adding to the problem.

    • Kevin Tucker says:

      Racism exists whether you believe it or not. The point is simply accountability. If a vocalist and or instrumentalist provides a service. They should be paid on time. It’s great that artists speak against atrocities that permeate the industry.

  • Musician says:

    They still aren’t paying some musicians from last YEAR! They are criminal.

  • Kal Gajraj says:

    This unfortunate circumstance has nothing to do with Florida Grand Opera. Porgy & Bess was presented by The South Florida Symphony, FGO was not affiliated.

  • Waverly says:

    This has nothing to do with FGO.

  • L D says:

    This has nothing to do with Florida Grand Opera! This production was the sole production of South Florida Symphony. I don’t know what the issue is with the money, but I don’t think they are racist, just bad managers

  • Monty Bloom says:

    This orchestra also stiffs its musicians. It’s not a race thing.

    many of the orchestra musicians go unpaid perennially!

  • Richard Todd says:

    This is an orchestra issue, not a black or white issue. I applaud Morris for calling out an organization that has a long history of not paying their people for months at a time. This did not start with Porgy. This has been going on for years. To complicate the issue, this organization – as well as others here – spends extra money to fly musicians from other cities as well as house them for them to play with the orchestra. I don’t mean soloists, I mean orchestra players. They get paid on time. Others do not. The lack of respect by this organization toward the very people they need in order for them to have a job is reprehensible. There oughta be a Law……

    • norman lebrecht says:

      In the absence of a law, let’s draw up a Slipped Disc list of orchestras that can pay/won’t pay

    • Gabe says:

      The laws vary from State to State and County to County. I did a tour with these guys. I filed wage theft in 2 counties. The other counties had no workers rights. Fla is one of the most abysmal states for workers rights. It is an “at will employment” State.

    • Charles Castleman says:

      You are right, except that frequently those who are flown down and housed, also never are paid!

  • Benjamin says:

    I don’t know if this is still the case, but they used to fly people in from around the country, so I flew in for the week (missing my normal work, but I thought it would be fun). I played with the orchestra, and then months go by, I had been warned it could be 2-3 months before I got paid, but as 6 months approached I had been missing out on money that was sorely needed at the time. I had a lawyer draft a letter, it was not a nice one, and since they flew me in from out state and they paid, it crossed state lines, so he also threatened a lawsuit in federal court.

    My compensation was to include a per diem, and they weren’t going to give it, even though it was in the contract.

    I ended up getting my money quite quickly after that, though people I played with didn’t get paid for a year or even a year and a half!!!

    • MD says:

      Oh they still do fly people in. Several people from Boston, NY, Philly, and other places are down there right now doing another cycle. :/

  • Union Guy says:

    Join a Union.

  • DS says:

    They are mistreating the orchestra musicians as well. Of all colors.

  • M says:

    Has nothing to do with being black. Orchestra hasn’t gotten paid since their December concert, which was before Porgy.

  • julie says:

    just letting you know that many have fallen into this situation with this company- after completing the pops series last year with liz callaway-it took a couple of months to finally secure payment..dont have the exact details – i have blocked it out- but will never work for them again without payment up front- it was a very frustrating and time consuming venture to get full payment….it is not just this time around or for these performers…

  • Kozmika says:

    Was this a one-time performance? If so , the artists should have been paid during the intermission.