The Kentucky Opera has hired a group of community musicians to play for next weekend’s performances. The ongoing Louisville Orchestra labor dispute has left the opera without musicians. The company seated a group of union orchestra players for November’s run of Carmen. The players were given a shorter-term version of their collective bargaining agreement with the orchestra for those performances.
However, opera management says the contract was too expensive, and sought a more basic per-performance agreement two months later for a run of The Marriage of Figaro. The musicians did not agree, and the show was done with two pianos and a harpsichord in place of musicians.
Opera General Director David Roth says he had hoped to sign a per-performance deal with the union for next week’s performances of The Merry Widow, but the players declined. He says the musicians who will play next weekend came to them out of frustration with the musicians’ union dispute.
“This is a group of musicians, many of whom play in the community orchestras, from the former seminary orchestra connected to the Baptist Seminary and I believe many of them play together in the Jewish Community Center orchestra as well, or at least have from time to time,” says Roth. “Actually, some of them are former members of the Louisville Orchestra.”
An arrangement involving the Fund for the Arts would have secured a group of union players for the show. That deal, however, fell through when a block of money from JCPS meant for educational purposes was withdrawn.
“We would love to have the Louisville Orchestra but with the breakdown in negotiations and the complete impasse between the orchestra and the musicians we believe that is not possible at this time,” says Roth. “We all heard what pianos are like with the Marriage of Figaro and we are delighted to have this orchestral ensemble.”
The new opera players rehearsed yesterday evening. As they entered the rehearsal space, Louisville Orchestra musicians met them at the door to ask them not to go against the union. They also handed out leaflets outlining the dispute and the damage they say the replacement orchestra would do to professional union musicians in Louisville.
Musicians’ committee chair Kim Tichenor says the union will demonstrate outside of upcoming opera performances.
The replacements will be paid the standard per-performance rate for their time, but they will not sign a contract or become regular opera performers. Roth says he hopes to have orchestra musicians in place for the next opera season.
The orchestra has given the musicians one week to agree to binding arbitration over a new contract or else be replaced. Tichenor says the players are reviewing the offer.