Just in: Met will not pay cancelled singers

Just in: Met will not pay cancelled singers


norman lebrecht

March 17, 2020

The message below has gone out to agents and artists from Diane Zola, assistant general manager at the Met. With ‘sincere’ best wishes.

As you are aware, on Thursday, March 12, 2020 the Metropolitan Opera was forced to cancel rehearsals and performances due to the global pandemic of COVID-19 also known as Coronavirus.

There is a Force Majeure provision in the AGMA Collective Bargaining Agreement. Because the public health-related closure of the Met is a Force Majeure condition, payment obligations and other terms of the CBA and the individual artist contracts are not applicable during the period that the Force Majeure condition exists.

Given the rapid progression of COVID-19 internationally, we thank you for your understanding as we all weather unknown and challenging times. Your wellbeing and health are of the utmost importance to the Metropolitan Opera and we send you all good wishes for good health and strength.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have further questions or concerns.

With my sincere best wishes,


Nikitin and Kampe in the current Flying Dutchman

UPDATE: Broke ENO pays singers. The Met won’t. What’s to be done?


  • barry guerrero says:

    Would you expect anything different from the Met? They’re constantly proving themselves to be on the wrong side of what will eventually be history.

    • V.Lind says:

      They won’t be the only ones who do this. From asking for the ticket rices already paid to be “donated” to finding ways not to pay artists who will not be performing, fragile arts organisations will be seeking zealously for ways to minimise the losses they are now facing.

      Government promises — if honoured — may see artists compensated, which takes the burden off the companies. Ticket price “donations” are supposed to be voluntary — but I imagine refunds will take both time and massive effort on the part of some patrons of some houses. (The Mirvish Company in Toronto, where a popular musical has been cancelled for now, has already begun refunding — an admirable model for how it SHOULD be done).

      There are problems all over. Musicians, in this at least, are far from unique.

    • Jack says:

      If the Met paid (or were forced to pay) singers for cancelled shows for the rest of the season, the result would be bankruptcy all round, unless, of course, the Met gets a bailout from either the government (unlikely) or from the Desmarais family.

  • sam says:

    Which opera house (that is not financed by the state printing cash at will) is paying its cancelled singers?

    • Tim says:

      English National Opera, Scottish National Opera. There will be others too.

      In this country, if you’re Arts Council funded you have accepted T&Cs that you pay your freelancers.

      • Una says:

        Perhaps, but as you say the funding is so different, and the fees for Scottish and ENO are not star houses, albeit extremely fine ones. I was in Scottish Opera. But the fees are peanuts in comparison of any Met or any international American opera house. The ticket sales ate far less as each ticket would be cheaper but also the Met is just huge.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          If you are “a star” then you can probably afford to take the hit. It is those further down the status chain that will have difficulty paying their bills.

    • CHNina says:

      I know of no European house which is paying the artists. Force majeure, in every contract.

  • The View from America says:

    Non-sequitur of the year:

    “There is a Force Majeure provision in the AGMA Collective Bargaining Agreement. Because the public health-related closure of the Met is a Force Majeure condition, payment obligations and other terms of the CBA and the individual artist contracts are not applicable during the period that the Force Majeure condition exists.”

    “Your well-being and health are of the utmost importance to the Metropolitan Opera and we send you all good wishes for good health and strength.”

  • Peter says:

    Just In: Nobody is getting paid because of the force majeure clauses in all contracts…. no news here!

  • A.L. says:

    Nikitin, Kampe, Gergiev, Girard, et.al. executed so poorly, meaninglessly and boringly that their fees should have been forfeited.

  • Larry says:

    This is absolutely the correct policy, which is why we have force majeure clauses in contracts in the first place.

    I’m not a lawyer and am not under any circumstances giving legal advice here but this is the force majeure I use for my contracts, which I borrowed verbatim from a major US orchestra:

    “In the event that the terms of any part of this Agreement on the part of the Presenter or Orchestra shall be prevented by act of God, fire, casualty, physical disability, the acts or regulations of public authorities or labor unions, labor difficulties, lockout, strike, civil tumult, war, riot, blackout, act of public enemy, interruption or delay of transportation service or any other cause of a similar or different nature, beyond its control, Presenter and the Orchestra shall respectfully be relieved of their obligations hereunder with respect to the Performance so prevented for any of the foregoing reasons.”

    I would say that the W.H.O. declaring a world-wide pandemic would constitute an “act” of a public authority. (Maybe it’s actually “civil tumult.”) So you see, the clause protects BOTH parties.

    Stay safe, everyone.

    • Peter says:

      “…Presenter and the Orchestra shall respectfully be relieved of their obligations”
      means exactly this: NO payment in all of these listed force majeure cases…

      @Marc: no European house or American house pays their guest artists, that are on contract for a certain period (weeks, months) and for a certain run of shows, however they might be paying the artists who are working in their ensemble (orchestra, chorus, ensemble singers) and are there as permanent employees…
      It’s good to see Yoncheva’s recent post to understand that due to force majeure clauses in artists contracts, the presenter is relieved of any obligations aka payment!


    • Has-been says:

      Larry, You have been in the business as long as I have. If you were in this situation you would have signed the letter yourself, as chief executive, not handed it to the assistant manager.

      • Larry says:

        Yes,I probably would have but that’s not to say that the Met’s form of communication was totally wrong.

    • Anon says:

      legally permissible vs the right thing to do. This coming from a GD who hides behind his female colleague to make this announcement, covers up a known pedophile and serial sexual predator (Levine and Domingo) in his midst for years, and now stiffs their singers after many have fronted travel costs. Gelb belongs on the ash heap of history for this. Don’t give me this legal BS. Yes, it’s true but good luck getting the public and singers back on your side. Once the dust settles on all this, companies will be rewarded for what they did to protect the most vulnerable during a time of true crisis for the art form.

    • Ian says:

      The Met is not “too big to fail” particularly with the lowered caliber of singers in recent years.

  • Hypocrite says:

    I hope that Peter isn’t getting paid either..that would be a travesty if he was.

    • MacroV says:

      He still has a house to run; his job hasn’t gotten any easier. Singers are just one component, expense, and activity.

    • Kyle says:

      I’m going to go against popular sentiment here, and argue that this doesn’t make much sense. I realize that arts organizations exist to produce art, created by artists. However, most artists – most people for that matter – are terrible at running a business. That’s because being good at business is hard. (Note that I am not comparing being good at business to being good as an artist. Being good at just about anything is difficult.)

      The truth of the matter is that most artists – at least those who make a living wage at it, excluding superstars – depend on arts administration in order to get paid for doing their jobs. For the portion of my income that comes from performing, I certainly do. And I’m losing income.

      COVID-19 is creating more work and greater challenges for arts administration, not less. Despite the fact that the currently necessary work doesn’t directly create art or employ artist, that work has to be done in order for the artists to be able to return to work at organizations that hopefully still exist when this health crisis has subsided.

      Could Mr. Gelb and others show some solidarity by taking reductions in pay or other similar steps? Absolutely. But I think it is not logical to be upset that artists aren’t getting paid while unable to work, while arguing that those who are trying to keep the ships afloat long-term shouldn’t be getting paid while working.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Until the last cockroach survives on earth, Peter will receive his pay check. Along with any contractual increases. You can bet the house (opera house) on that.

  • Hypocrite says:

    By Peter, I mean Peter Gelb

  • #resistthemet says:

    All ticket holders, donors and sponsors should demand FULL MONETARY REFUNDS immediately since no provision is being made for the people that define the MET’s existence.


    • NYer says:

      I got a call from the met that all performances were cancelled until what ever the in the future it was and that we would get automatic refunds.

    • MacroV says:

      Not the orchestra, not the set/costume designers, not the stagehands? Really, in the production and staging of opera, the singers are pretty much just the cake toppers.

  • Let the chips fall where they may.! says:

    It was Gelb’s job to issue such a statement. The nerve to sign the letter “Diane”.

  • christopher storey says:

    What a bunch of weasel words. Will this woman receive her ( no doubt susbstantial salary ? I think she may get a nasty shock in Court if she finds out that a collective bargaining agreement does not apply to individual self employed artists. I hope they bankrupt the place

    • Larry says:

      If the singer or his/her manager signed a contract with a force majeure clause, then it definitely applies.

    • Larry D says:

      Yeah, bankrupting the Met would be a happy outcome for everyone. Meanwhile I suppose you are donating to a fund to support out-of-work artists. You sound like you have a truly big heart.

    • MWnyc says:

      It does if those artists are members of AGMA and that membership is referenced in their contracts.

  • Solo Singer Sigh says:

    Actually, it does apply. Solo singers sign contracts with them Met that include details negotiated by the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA, the union for singers, stage managers, and dancers). A solo singer must be a member of AGMA in good standing to receive and sign a Met contract. The contracts include language that has been agreed upon by both the Met and AGMA and also states that the terms of the CBA apply to the contract.

    Sadly, in this case

    • SVM says:

      So, is the Met contracting solo singers on a “closed shop” basis, even for singers outwith the USA? In the UK, requiring membership of a union would be illegal.

  • Vaquero357 says:

    How about this instead: “While the force majeure clause means we don’t have to pay singers for cancelled performances, the MET will voluntarily pay them X% of their originally agreed upon fees to help mitigate the hardship for them in this difficult time.”

    Just sayin’.

    And I guarantee you Diane is just an apparatchik doing what she’s told. Gelb and the board would have to implement the fantasy policy I just described above.

  • Luciano says:

    More important is that the chorus, orchestra, stage hands etc continue to be paid. In this case we are talking about big name artists who should be OK. Opera houses and orchestras need to avoid bankruptcy in times like this. Poor maestro doesn’t get his 15k a night fee? Sorry..

  • Larry W says:

    Meanwhile, Houston Grand Opera (Diane Zola’s former employer) is committed to paying their musicians 50% of cancelled services, even though have Force Majeure in their contracts. HGO kept productions going following Hurricane Harvey even after having to move out of the flooded Wortham Center. They know how to weather a storm and will cope with the adverse effects of this virus. Their general manager Perryn Leech is a Major Force.

  • Mr Wahrheit says:

    If the bloody METROPOLITAN OPERA OF NEW YORK doesn’t care enough about its employees to keep their rent paid during a global pandemic… why the hell would anyone want to be pursuing a “career” in opera. Sounds like a joke of a profession, run by liars, cons and theifs from top to bottom. Best to invest your life elsewhere people.

  • Dave says:

    I calculate the Met costs about $5.7 million per week to run. Without any income from performances, how exactly do you expect them to continue paying everybody and not to be bankrupt by next season? In addition, please realize the Met has many full time salaried employees including a large orchestra and chorus plus all the technical staff. Think before you throw them under the bus by wishing bankruptcy on the company. Yes, some people will suffer in the short term (I’ve lost over 2/3 of my income this month), but if our institutions fail, many more will suffer in the long term.

  • fflambeau says:

    To those who are lambasting the Metropolitan Opera, I want to applaud them.

    Not so much over this issue (which is understandable) but for rebroadcasting free to the public (over the Internet) rebroadcasts on DVD hi definition from their archive of operas. Every night during the coronavirus problem, they will broadcast a different opera for 20 hours (on the Internet) after the initial one from New York at 7:30 p.m.

    Last night I listened to an amazing broadcast of “Carmen”, (originally broadcast, I think, in 2009) and was flabbergasted at how good it was. I actually applauded (at home). I hate to use the word, “definitive” but in this case it is warranted. Almost all international stars with a Latvian/Russian soprano, Elīna Garanča in the lead (she was sexy, sultry, and terrific) and a gifted French tenor, Roberto Allagna, who played the male lead. What surprised me is how well they acted (their singing was gorgeous, of course). Their interaction was magnificent. Brilliant production led by the man who is now the Met’s chief conductor (he made his first appearance at the Met here and it was rousing). His tempi were just right: hard and driving.

    There must be heavy viewer use because I did have some streaming difficulties and interruptions but the production was so good, I kept at it. The only other trick is the timing: remember, each broadcast is for 20 hours only after the original 7:30 p.m. broadcast from New York City.

    Tonight’s feature: Puccini’s La Bohème, starring Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas, with Nicola Luisotti on the podium.

    Hats off to the Met for doing this! Lets give them some credit for this.

  • Stay classy Met says:

    The Flying Dutchman would not have went on without its singers or crew. I hope you and peter aren’t getting paid as well. Since no money is coming in.

  • Cassandra says:

    I’m not surprised by this at all. It’s in every American soloist’s contract, and it’s expected. The Met has hundreds of overpaid full time employees to pay as well. Soloists are the least of their worries.

    It really doesn’t matter, if this drags on into August and September as the govt. has said, the Met and most NY based arts institutions will cease to exist. The Met is looking at irrecoverable extinction at this point. Exerting force majeure and saving what money they can will keep them afloat another month or so.

  • Ashley Bathgate says:

    disgusting. lost my support indefinitely. what a terrible example this sets. and to keep streaming these soloist’s performances while standing by this decision is even more infuriating.