In an open letter, Daniel Froschauer, head of the Vienna Philharmonic, wrote,
The world is watching. 30% of the members of the MET Orchestra can no longer sustain a living in New York City due to being faced with no salary from the Metropolitan Opera since April 1, 2020. This number will likely climb higher as the crisis continues.
At the beginning of 2021, the Met musicians stated:
We have now been unpaid for ten months and counting. The Metropolitan Opera is an outlier in our industry; every other major orchestra has been compensated since the very beginning of the pandemic.
In March 2020, the orchestra’s musicians were furloughed with two weeks’ pay. By October, a third of the orchestra had had to leave their homes in New York.
The letter from the Vienna Philharmonic continues:
The Met’s global reputation and the cultural landscape of New York City would be devastated by the loss of artists of this calibre – this orchestra hosts some of the best players in the world. These musicians have a cultural and economic impact beyond that of bringing great opera to the world, they are teachers and mentors too. They contribute to the communities they live in by inspiring people in all areas and stages of life.
Other important voices have already been heard underlining the orchestra’s plight. In a letter, Riccardo Muti wrote:
The Met, its Orchestra, along with its artistic team and technical crews are a heritage of humanity. The artistic world is in disbelief that the very existence of a great Orchestra like the Met’s could be in danger and even at risk of disappearing. The extensive and glorious history of the Met and its fabulous Orchestra cannot end in an artistic catastrophe.
My appeal… is to give back to the musicians of the Met the dignity which we all deserve and the hope that they can soon return to share with us their art. We must support them during this unprecedented and terrible pandemic.
According to The New York Post, the Met used ‘budget musicians’ for a pay-per-view gala on New Year’s Eve. Adam Krauthamer, president of a musicians’ union said,
It is artistic malpractice and unacceptable that non-Met musicians are being hired to perform under the banner of the Metropolitan Opera. Let’s be clear: hiring non-Met musicians under the banner of the Metropolitan Opera and outsourcing the orchestra’s work is an attack on the Met as an artistic institution and an insult to the very artists who work there.
In its defence, the Met Opera told Classic FM that the Met Stars Live in Concert series were vocal recitals, primarily presented with piano accompaniment, with star singers who were mostly based in Europe.
The purpose of these recitals is to augment the Met’s free streams in an effort to stay connected with the Met’s global audience and donors, of critical necessity during a time when performances can’t take place at the Met.
For several months the Met has been attempting to get its musicians to the negotiating table with the offer of pay for the duration of the pandemic, along with the long-term concessions that are absolutely necessary to assure the sustainability of the Met and the ultimate job security of its musicians, as well as its many hundreds of other employees.
The Vienna Philharmonic’s letter concludes:
The members of the orchestra need more advocacy from their management and support from the Government. There should be more attention on this cultural devastation before it is too late. We as colleagues and friends from the Vienna Philharmonic hope that the Metropolitan Opera can find ways to adapt and include their house musicians in their programming efforts going forward.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.