Paris Opera Soldiers On Through Strikes

Classic Arts News   Paris Opera Soldiers On Through Strikes
The strikes may be over at La Scala, but they're dragging on at the Opéra National de Paris, as backstage workers continue their protests over the reform of their pension schemes.

Most of the unions representing technical staff withdrew their strike threats in mid-November; only SUD, a minority union which represents many of the scenery and lighting workers at the Opéra-Bastille (the newer of the company's two houses), and the even smaller union FSU are continuing their walkouts.

Consequently, in recent weeks the Opéra has been able to put on some of its productions, if only in a partially staged form.

Most affected has been this year's presentation of The Nutcracker, in the lavish version created for the company by Rudolf Nureyev. One performance of the ballet, on Nov. 19, went ahead with most dancers performing in rehearsal clothes rather then costumes — the show probably went on so that lead dancer Dorothée Gilbert could be publicly promoted to the rank of étoile — but most of November's Nutcrackers were cancelled. Sunday's matinee (Dec. 2), however, was presented with full costumes, though with limited scenery and lighting; it appears that the rest of this month's performances will proceed in the same way until the labor dispute is settled.

This season's revival of Handel's Alcina, in a modern-dress staging by Robert Carsen at the historic Palais Garnier, has now taken the stage five times, from Nov. 22 through last night, each time with costumes but limited sets. The production is scheduled to have seven more performances through Dec. 26.

A similar situation is expected for the upcoming new production of Wagner's Tannh‹user, which opens Dec. 6. One of the major events of this season at the Opéra, the staging is directed by Carsen, with Seiji Ozawa conducting, Stephen Gould in the title role and co-stars Eva-Maria Westbroek, Béatrice Uria-Monzon, Matthias Goerne and Franz-Josef Selig. The company's administration has already announced that all performances will proceed as scheduled — in a concert version with costumes if not fully staged. "Considering the exceptional musical quality of this production," says a statement on the Opéra's website, "ticketholders will not be reimbursed" if the performance is reduced due to the strike. (Instead, affected audience members are being offered a 15% discount for any one of four productions, none of them of standard repertoire, scheduled for later this season.)

The walkouts at the Opéra are part of the nationwide pattern of strikes over President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to reform the vast, complicated and expensive array of pensions in place for various unions and professions. Throughout the fall, labor actions have at different times crippled or even paralyzed numerous sectors of the French transportation and education systems as well as other industries.

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