The 64th season of the Lyric Opera of Chicago was disrupted Tuesday (Oct. 9) when musicians walked off the job to protest cuts proposed by management. The musicians set up a picket line outside the Civic Opera House on Tuesday and played excerpts from various operas as they expressed opposition by the opera company to cut the number of orchestra musicians by five.
“What we are suggesting to the orchestra is that we reduce the number of core players through attrition and with voluntary retirement benefits,” said Lyric Opera CEO Anthony Freud. “The thing is that currently, the core number of musicians is 74. Many of the operas we perform don’t need an orchestra of 74.”
The opera company also wants to cut the pay of remaining musicians by 8 percent and the number of working weeks by two weeks to 22 weeks. “Anthony Freud and Lyric management are demanding radical cuts that would decimate the orchestra and forever diminish Lyric Opera,” the musicians say in a statement.
As a result of the strike, the Lyric canceled Thursday’s (Oct. 11) matinee performance of Puccini’s “La Boheme” and Saturday’s (Oct. 13) opening night for Mozart’s “Idomeneo.” Also canceled was Friday’s (Oct. 12) performance of “Choir! Choir! Choir!” The musicians’ contract with the opera company expired June 30. At issue is management’s contention the previous contract no longer reflects the company’s economic reality. Lyric Opera contends its diminishing audience can no longer support as many weeks of performances as in the past.
“It’s a national trend that opera performances are harder and more expensive to sell than they ever have been,” Freud said “We’re scheduling the maximum number of opera performances we believe we can sell.” For this 64th season of Lyric Opera, The company has booked 55 performances for the current season. Ten years ago the Lyric was scheduling about 85 performances.
Opera officials say the company cannot agree to the terms the musicians demand given current financial circumstances. They say changes are necessary to ensure the opera company’s survival as a “world-class” opera company. The musicians strike comes a day after the Lyric reached an agreement with stagehands, hair and makeup workers, and ticket sellers.