San Francisco Opera puts gun to musicians’ heads

The SF Opera is filling social media with every other topic but refuses to answer questions about a deal that cuts musician wages by half.

Here’s what the players say:

Tonight, the musicians of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra voted to accept devastating changes to our existing contract. Had we rejected these cuts—including 50% of our weekly salary for the fall season and deep but graduated cuts for the ensuing 2 years—we would immediately have been without any income or the guarantee of health coverage.

The modified contract leaves key orchestra positions vacant for seven years, and ties the musicians’ compensation to ticket sales. Both of these modifications are unrelated to the pandemic and outside the musicians’ control. Everyone agrees that the San Francisco Opera Orchestra consistently meets the highest performance standards. The musicians are not invited to collaborate on artistic decisions or marketing strategies, and yet our compensation will nonetheless remain reduced for years if management fails to do its job of selling tickets. The reverse will not be true—management’s generous compensation is not tied to its sales or to the performance of the orchestra. Nor is management sharing equitably in the sacrifices it is imposing on its musicians, chorus and other employees.

We are told that the Opera Board considers these changes necessary, though the company has amassed a Quarter Billion Dollar endowment. If there was ever a time to release more endowment funds in order to support the company while its artists work to reinvent the way we share music, a global pandemic is indeed that time.