Paris Opera Strike Update: New Tannh‹user Semi-Staged, Nutcracker Back to Normal, One Union Holds Out

Classic Arts News   Paris Opera Strike Update: New Tannh‹user Semi-Staged, Nutcracker Back to Normal, One Union Holds Out
With all but one minority union having called off their walkouts, performances at the Opéra National de Paris are almost back to normal.

All presentations at the historic Palais Garnier will proceed as planned through the end of this month; these include Robert Carsen's staging of Handel's Alcina and a revival of Pierre Lacotte's ballet Paquita which opens Dec. 11.

Of the two works currently at the company's newer house, the Opéra-Bastille, Rudolf Nureyev's Nutcracker — the production most affected by the strikes — is now being presented with full costumes, scenery and lighting.

The other production at the Bastille, opening tonight and promoted as one of the major events of the season, is a new staging by Carsen of Wagner's Tannh‹user, with Stephen Gould in the title role and co-stars Eva-Maria Westbroek, Béatrice Uria-Monzon, Matthias Goerne and Franz-Josef Selig. Because of the one small union continuing its walkout, as an official statement on the company's website puts it, "the Opéra National de Paris is forced to present the opening night of Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser in a semi-staged version, with costumes and lighting, in order to support the excellent musical achievement of [the company's] orchestra and chorus, with an exceptional cast under the galvanizing musical direction of Seiji Ozawa."

Because the semi-staging "obviously does not reflect the mise-en-scne conceived by Robert Carsen and his team," the Opéra is offering ticketholders a 15% discount for any one of five productions scheduled for later this season. (Four of those are of non-standard repertoire: Hindemith's Cardillac, Dallapiccola's Il prigionero, Haas's Melancholia and Gustave Charpentier's Louise; the fifth, added to the list only yesterday, is next month's revival of Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten in a Robert Wilson staging.)

The strikes at the Opéra are part of the wave of labor actions that have afflicted France since October in protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to reform the complicated and expensive array of pension schemes in place for various unions and professions.

Most of the unions representing technical staff at the Opéra withdrew their strike threats in mid-November, citing progress in negotiations with management. Of the two that were holding out, SUD-spectacle, which represents many of the scenery and lighting workers at the Opéra-Bastille, suspended its walkout today, according to Agence France-Presse. This leaves only the FSU, which represents only a small number of the company's 1,680 salaried employees, refusing to return to work.

Today's Agence France-Presse report notes that the continuation of FSU's strike threat (good through Dec. 20, with another to follow afterwards) allows that union local's members, who don't always follow the directives of their leaders, to strike legally if they so choose.

Harsh criticism of FSU's stance came from Opéra director of human resources Dominique Legrand, who called the attitude of the local's two representatives "totally irresponsible."

"It's worth noting that one of them was on vacation in Spain during the first strike period," he told AFP, "and the second just left for two weeks in the Caribbean, saying that he was maintaining the strike threat so that each member could stop work as he pleases."

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