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Lyric Opera Strike | A View From The Pit

As the strike continues, we must turn our attention to where so many of Lyric's problems lie: the management of Lyric Opera of Chicago and, in particular, Anthony Freud.

A Familiar Story: The CEO Gets a Big Raise While Cutting Workers' Pay
It is undisputed that Freud and Lyric's upper management have exploded the budget from $60.4 million in 2012 to $84.5 million in 2017. Where has that $24 million gone? Certainly not to the orchestra. As we've pointed out, the orchestra's share of the budget shrank from 14.6 percent to 11.9 percent during that time.

Here's one clue: While the musicians' salaries have stagnated, Freud's has not. He saw a compensation increase of 18 percent from 2014 to 2017. In 2016 alone, right after the orchestra musicians agreed to a wage-neutral contract with health care cuts, Freud got a 16 percent raise. His annual salary last year was a staggering $784,387 - roughly 12 times a musician's base salary of $65,912 this year.

Consider this simple fact: Each orchestra musician stands to lose at least $6,000 this year as a result of Freud's proposed cuts. He makes that much in just three days.

Paying the musicians less, cutting the number of musicians, gutting the number of performances . . . while at the same time the CEO gives himself a massive raise? This is not a "new business model" or "sustainable" financial approach, as Freud feebly claims. It is a very old business model. It was discredited long ago. We cannot return to the Dark Ages.

Freud's Track Record Of Failure
Since the strike began, Freud has protested that Lyric must downsize because not enough people are interested in opera. But his approach would make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. By eliminating Lyric's popular radio broadcasts and slashing the number of performances by 35 percent - alienating longtime subscribers in the process - Freud has made it virtually impossible for music lovers to access opera. It's a recipe for failure; fewer performances, plus no broadcasts, equals less opportunity to hear or experience opera.

Freud also claims that donors won't support Lyric anymore unless the musicians get on board with his slash-and-burn agenda. That's nonsense. Our donors have been loyal and generous, and we are grateful every day for their support. They support Lyric Opera because they love opera. Donors want to be confident that Lyric is a good steward of their generous gifts, for sure, but most of all, they want to know that their generosity is supporting opera, and they must be given reasons to be excited about it. Nobody gives to a balance sheet.

Continuing his baseless attacks, Freud complains that he doesn't want to "pay musicians for work not done." That is the height of irony. If Freud's assertions of financial distress are to be believed, then it happened entirely on his watch. If he wants to point the finger at anyone being paid for not doing their job, he need only look in the mirror. Eight hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money to pay for failure.

This Must Stop
Lyric and Freud are recklessly careening down the wrong path. Lyric is trying to cut its way to success - cut the orchestra, eliminate radio broadcasts, and cut the number of performances. Everyone in the arts knows that is the path to ruin. Far from building anything "sustainable," it instead guarantees a downward spiral. We, the musicians of the Lyric Opera Orchestra, cannot allow ourselves to be a party to Freud's demolition of Chicago's great opera company.


See also: Lyric Opera Responds To Union Charges.


Comments welcome.


Posted on October 11, 2018

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