The previous contract between Lyric Opera and the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), which represents the chorus, dancers, non-singing actors and production staff, expired on May 1, and negotiations have continued since that time. On September 25, the company's AGMA membership voted 88 to 5 to authorize a strike. "Absent an agreed-upon contract by opening night," reads a handout from AGMA sent to the press, "the union will close down the Lyric and its Opera Ball on September 29."
Union members did participate in the final dress rehearsal for Traviata yesterday, according to The Chicago Tribune. The final rehearsal for a production of La Bohme, starring Angela Gheorghiu and directed by retired soprano legend Renata Scotto, remains planned for tomorrow, with the first performance scheduled for Monday, October 1.
AGMA national executive director Alan Gordon told the Tribune that the main points of dispute were health insurance (he says that Lyric wants members, for the first time, to pay 8.5% of insurance costs, and that soloists would have to work for 20 weeks instead of 16 to qualify for coverage) and staffing.
The union's handout devotes most of its space to the claim that Lyric Opera wants to do away entirely with "cover" singers (i.e., paid understudies who attend all rehearsals and are prepared to perform on short notice in case of a princpal singer's illness).
Asked by Playbill Arts for comment, Lyric director of communications Susan Mathieson Mayer would say only, "We are in negotiations with AGMA, talks are ongoing, and we fully expect a resolution by opening night."