Washington Opera in contract dispute

October 15, 1991|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,Evening Sun Staff

The Washington Opera and the D.C. Federation of Musicians Local 161-710 representing the opera orchestra will resume contract talks Oct. 16, one day before the company makes a final decision on whether to cancel its first production. Verdi's "Don Carlo" is set to open Nov. 9 at the Kennedy Center.

Martin Feinstein, general director, said the company would make a final decision about "Don Carlo" Oct. 17. The old contract expired Aug. 31. Talks started in June and were last held Sept. 30.

The next day the company said the parties were at "an apparent impasse" and that the opera may have to cancel part or all of its 1991-92 season of 63 performances. The opera listed "featherbedding" among "the most onerous of the union's current demands" which, it said, "would total a 78 percent increase in costs to the company."

The opera said the union wanted "guaranteed work for every performance in the second year of the contract for 61 musicians regardless of the instrumentation required by specific operas." To accept union demands "would be totally irresponsible," Feinstein said earlier.

Melanie Mattson, assistant principal bassoonist and head of the orchestra players committee, said the orchestra was seeking "a professional living wage and working conditions." She said the union wanted more than "the current free-lance wage" and "skeletal health benefits."

Among other things, Mattson said, the union wants a weekly sala

ry rather than "per service" wages, bringing members closer to pay for the five top opera orchestras, all of which have salaries. The orchestra has a weekly wage when it plays for Kennedy Center ballets.

"Our wages have lagged far behind other opera and ballet orchestras," Mattson said.

Coincidentally, "Don Carlo" is the same opera opening The Baltimore Opera Company's season Oct. 19, at The Lyric. Both companies plan the shorter four-act version.

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