(Photo: Tyler Callahan)
Every Friday, Polina Lyapustina delivers a short essay on some of the industry’s most essential topics with the aim of establishing a dialogue about the world of opera and its future.
From mid-September, news about strikes in the cultural sector began to appear in the media. The successful Norwegian National Opera postponed a few performances due to a strike (the reason was that employers and employees could not agree on a pension plan). The company announced it as a change in the schedule for a reason, but the complaints were only brought up to the bargaining table where they could be dealt with.
The problem of American unions unable to manage deals before the season opened seemed more familiar – contracts and warranties, wages and benefits – primarily to less visible groups of workers like stagehands or customer service. At least he provoked the threat of strikes.
In Spain, the strike was caused by another usual factor for this country: government interference in cultural institutions by imposing standards that are far from real conditions.
But certainly the highlight (but only for now) was the strike at the Maggio Musicale in Florence, where the conflict developed with much noise and fanfare. Although none of the issues expressed by the unions are new, company boss Alexander Pereira immediately acted with surprise and accused workers and unions of betraying and destroying the theater.
The crux of the matter is that FIALS and its secretary general, Enrico Sciarra, demanded changes and open negotiations long before the pandemic, highlighting the problems of basic guarantees for workers, the almost total absence of long-term contracts, the long delays in payment and difficulties in the management of institutions by politicians and government appointees. This year, FIALS sent new complaints without any response, while theaters, especially majors like Maggio Musicale, continued to build new plans and open new venues. Eventually, it was suggested to the workers of the Maggio Orchestra, who are now in high demand both in the theater and for the upcoming exhibition in Dubai, to choose this moment to make their legitimate demands heard.
But in return, in his public response, Superintendent Pereira only seemed to care about the evening saved with stars – Zubin Mehta conducted on piano and accompanied “La Traviata” with Nadine Sera, Francesco Meli and Plácido Domingo.
Depending on the structure, the next person concerned and responsible is the mayor of Florence, who certainly addressed the issue right away (and like a good Italian politician – publicly):
“Just today I had a serious meeting at Palazzo Vecchio with Alexander Pereira, in the presence of the administrative director and my chief of staff to take stock of the overall situation. As for relations with the unions, the superintendent, proof of the attention paid to the workers, already met the representatives yesterday and will meet them again tomorrow. Indeed, a permanent table will be open to discuss all questions concerning the life of the Foundation.
Well, in fact, this meeting did not yield any results, and nothing but accusations and threats of loss of the theater were expressed by the management of the theater. But working in one of Italy’s most respectable theaters remains a serious challenge.
Meanwhile, Enrico Sciara of FIALS notes the increase in psychophysical stress, to the point of compromising performance at work and, therefore, bringing the risk of compromising artistic quality as well. The orchestra that is supposed to represent the country at Expo 2020 Dubai, where Italy has decided to hold the most fabulous presentation with the most venues and stages in three emirates, will be brought to the event by the cheapest transport.
“There will be a trip to Dubai soon. We are told there will be 13 or 14 hour bus rides.
Angelo Betti from another Fistel Cisl union notes that “Maggio makes five different productions. This is unbearable, given that the employees of Maggio are only 297. “There is constant overwork, which goes unpaid, and delays in basic pay.
And, I guess, it becomes pretty obvious that the situation isn’t going to change easily. Workers, and not just in Florence, have obeyed cruel rules for 25 years since the new regulations began to destroy the opera industry and opera culture in Italy.
But now, after two years of the pandemic, there doesn’t seem to be much to lose. And I believe that as was the case with IATSE Local One at the Met, desperation can become a source of strength to endure to the end and get results.
This fall, when hopes for continued work in theaters are still strong and all kinds of workers are in demand, it is a good time to make your voice heard and claim rights (some may seem minor, everything is relative, and yet all are important). And here, I hope the unions will support the workers and help them not succumb to accusations of destroying theaters or unfounded assurances that the situation will soon improve. The pandemic has shown that the industry is weak and cannot or will not support its workers.
Meanwhile, the fabulous return to the stage proved that the lyrical art is powerful. And the only thing workers have to keep in mind is that THEY ARE THE ART.