Met Opera Deal Allow Solo Singer Fees Cut by Up to 12.7%

NEW YORK — The Metropolitan Opera would be able to cut the fees of its highest-paid individual singers by 12.7% under a pending four-year contract with the American Guild of Musical Artists.

Details were not announced May 11 when the deal was agreed to, but slides of the solo artist pay terms created by AGMA were posted on Facebook by soprano Lisette Oropesa and reposted by mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, and the union released more complete terms to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The deal allows contracts of fees under $6,000 per performance to be cut 6%, with reductions increasing to 8% for $6,000 to $9,999, 9% for $10,000 to $11,999, 9.5% from $12,000 to $13,999 and the top reduction for above $13,999. The reductions would end on July 31, 2024.

The contract calls for a 3.7% cut for all groups except per-performance soloists — which covers the Met chorus — of which 2.7% is temporary and will be restored on July 31, 2024. The remaining 1% would be used to pay for AGMA economic items.

"In order for the Met to reopen in September, it is important for AGMA members to ratify this agreement," the Met said in a statement.

The guild said those cuts were only a small portion of the overall agreement and pointed out what it gained in the overall deal.

"Considering what the Met originally was seeking in concessions, which was around 30% in cuts, this tentative agreement was the best resolution for all our members," Leonard Egert, AGMA's national executive director, said Wednesday. "We found it a way to minimize the impact of those drastic wage cut proposals by kind of creatively working toward find savings elsewhere."

Met general manager Peter Gelb has said savings are needed as the company plans to resume performances in September after missing the final two months of 2019-20 and all of this season due to the pandemic.

Oroposa was livid.

"This is what my union spent over 12 weeks bargaining for? Uneven pay cuts? Once again, soloists left out in the dust," Oropesa wrote in a Facebook comment in which she vowed to vote against the agreement. "How is this fair? … Soloists take on more risk, more pressure, more expenses, more potential losses, and more burdens than any other group represented by this 'union.' Yet, we all pay the same amount of dues, and soloists who aren't American pay even more, because of massive visa fees and reinstatement fees. This is unfair bargaining."

Oropesa declined comment on her postings, spokesman Steven Harris said. 

The Met's full-time chorus will be decreased from 80 to 74 — its level now following attrition during the pandemic — with one position returning at the end of the contract.

Soloists will get their entire rehearsal fee upon arrival, instead of the past structure in which they received pay only on the nights of each performance.

"We were able to achieve a seat on the Met advisory board of trustees to try to break down the wall between the donors and the artists," said Sam Wheeler, AGMA's Eastern counsel. "For almost every group we got improvement to things like audition procedures, notification schedules."

The deal with AGMAs covers choristers, soloists, dancers, directors, assistant directors, stage managers and staff performers. About 400 will vote June 3 on ratification for the deal, which would replace a current contract that expires July 31. 

A lengthy agreement on diversity called for the Met to "expand the circulation of postings in a manner that assists in the recruitment of candidates from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented at the Metropolitan Opera and within the opera industry" and called for the company "to post hiring opportunities in a broader range of outlets than in the past," including historically Black colleges and universities.

In an art form where some singers have been criticized by directors for their weight, the agreement says "except where there is a significant cost factor or role based artistic decision, casting will not be based on body type or costume availability/fit."

The Met also is negotiating with Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, which represents the orchestra and whose contract expires July 31. The company locked out Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents its stagehands, on Dec. 8 and has said it was exploring the use of outside workers to start construction of sets for next season's new productions.

AGMA's deal gives it the right to renegotiate if the musicians or stagehands reach better terms.

Unions and their members complained when the Met stopped paying employees on March 31 last year, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Met said at the time it was continuing benefits but could not afford to pay unionized employees without the revenue from performances.

Those are the three biggest contracts. but the Met also several union deals that expired last summer and others expiring this summer.


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