Tag Archives: opera

Metropolitan Opera Outsources, Uses Non-AFM Musicians

Failing to pay its own musicians since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Metropolitan Opera has hired non-Metropolitan Opera musician ensembles for Met produced events and fundraisers. Most recently, the Met hired European string musicians for a New Year’s Eve gala streamed from Germany.

“All of these fundraising events can—and should—be done safely right here in New York with members of the Met orchestra,” says Local 802 (New York City) President Adam Krauthamer. “The deepest offense any artistic institution can make is the choice to attack its own artists. Put simply, Met General Manager Peter Gelb has created a cultural bait-and-switch: The audience sees a fundraiser produced by the Metropolitan Opera and naturally thinks that members of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra are the performing musicians, yet the reality is that the Met musicians are at home, unpaid and exploited.”

In a statement, the musicians of the Metropolitan Opera wrote, “There is no reason why these gala events need to take place in Europe. There are star singers on American soil too … and we can work together to showcase the Met, while helping each other in the process.”

The Governing Board of The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) also issued a statement, saying, “In abandoning his own musicians and hiring non-Met musicians for virtual fundraising events, Gelb is abandoning his responsibility to his employees and deceiving the patrons and donors who believe they are supporting the continuing artistry of the Metropolitan Opera.”

The Metropolitan Opera is the only top-tier ensemble in the US that has provided no compensation to its musicians since the pandemic began. Gelb has stated that the future of the company depends on cutting expenses until audiences have fully returned; however, no constructive dialogue has taken place with musicians regarding long-term solutions.

Additionally, in December, Met management locked out the company’s stagehands and threatened to hire outside shops to construct sets.

The Web Opera image

The Web Opera

Michael Roth

The Web Opera image

The Web Opera, composed by Michael Roth, of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), is a multi-episode, filmed opera web-series presented exclusively online and for free. It is a unique experiment in music and film based on true events to support suicide prevention and the fight against cyberabuse. 

A college freshman installs a webcam and starts a chain of events that will forever impact the lives of those around him. The five-episode opera confronts the negative impacts of social media shaming and cyberabuse on mental health and self-esteem, particularly in teens and college-age youth.

“It is, among other things, an experiment in both opera and film,” says Roth, a composer and sound artist who has scored over 250 productions. “In many ways, I think of it as my way of creating new opera or music/theatre in an environment that encourages creating independent work, rather than hoping for a producer to create the work onstage—and, in turn, taking advantage of everything that a film environment and online presentation has to offer.”

Since its launch, The Web Opera has been an official selection at 25 film festivals.

The Web Opera can be viewed anytime at the website www.thewebopera.com

The website contains links about bullying and cyberabuse, including information, support resources, and a discussion guide. The website also includes the opera’s complete score and libretto.

New York City Opera Announces 2019/20 Season

The New York City Opera (NYCO), which emerged from bankruptcy in 2016, has announced its schedule for the 2019/20 season. The company is planning two staged opera productions and several performances in a concert setting—including a 75th anniversary concert and a June concert to celebrate Pride Month.

The first opera production in the fall pairs the American premiere of Juan Durán’s O Arame with de Falla’s El Amor Brujo. In the spring, NYCO will present Mascagni’s Isabeau.

NYCO musicians are members of Local 802 (New York City).

Opera Inspired by Little Rock Nine

Sixty years to the day after nine African-American teenagers integrated Little Rock High School protected by the 101st Airborne Division, the eight surviving former students, President Bill Clinton, and other dignitaries gathered at Central High School. After a day of commemorations and sharing memories, an announcement was made that the story of the Little Rock Nine is being turned into an opera by composer Tania León, a member of Local 802 (New York City), and librettist Thulani Davis.

León told The New York Times that hearing their stories was invaluable. “It’s important to see them,” she says. “To hear their syntax, to feel their personalities.” Born and raised in Cuba, since coming to New York City in 1967, León has become an important figure in American music.

Stars of Lyric Opera

The Stars of Lyric Opera, MPTF Supports Free Concerts in Chicago

MPTF is a sponsor of Chicago’s annual Stars of Lyric Opera, performed at Millennium Park and free to the public.

Now a joyous end of summer musical tradition in downtown Chicago, the Stars of Lyric Opera annual free concert got its start at the turn of the new millennium. In early 2000, Lyric Opera of Chicago announced that it would present its first-ever free outdoor concert the Saturday after Labor Day, in Grant Park. That inaugural concert featured stars of the coming season performing with the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, which was conducted by Maestro Bruno Bartoletti.

“For some time, Mayor Richard M. Daley has been hopeful that Lyric Opera could present a free concert, and we are delighted that we are finally able to do so,” said William Mason, Lyric Opera’s general director at the time. “Thanks to a grant from the recording industry Music Performance Trust Fund, which was arranged by the Chicago Federation of Musicians [Local 10-208], it is now financially possible for us to bring the Chicago public a free concert.”

Lyric’s free preseason concert premiered September 9, 2000, attracting an audience of more than 20,000. It was presented in cooperation with Grant Park Music Festival, the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, and the Department of Cultural Affairs.

“The first four Stars of Lyric Opera at Grant Park concerts were in the James C. Petrillo Band Shell, appropriately a venue named for the [former AFM president and] founder of the Music Performance Trust Fund,” recalls William Cernota, who has served 20 years as chair of the Lyric Opera Orchestra Members Committee. He is in his 35th season as a cellist with the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

“In his dual role as trustee and chief executive of both the MPTF and the Film Fund from 1992 until 2013, John C. Hall, Jr., was instrumental in launching these concerts in tandem with Lyric Opera of Chicago,” Cernota notes. “This is a perfect example of how, by providing generous seed money to cover the Lyric Opera Orchestra compensation, the Trust Fund created an ongoing annual series of Chicago concerts that are free and open to the public. These performances stimulate audience members to become subscribers and regular ticket purchasers to Lyric Opera of Chicago.”

Subsequent to the inaugural Stars of Lyric Opera concert in 2000, a number of foundation and corporate sponsors have generously subsidized these free performances over the years, with continuous support from the MPTF. Lyric Opera Orchestra musicians are members of Local 10-208.

The Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park free concert features artists from Lyric’s upcoming season, along with the Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra, members of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL).

After a one-year hiatus for Lyric’s heavily-scheduled 50th anniversary season in 2004-2005, the concerts moved to the “new jewel in the crown of Chicago,” Cernota adds, and was renamed the Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park free concerts. Performances take place in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry.

Since 2007, the annual performance has been broadcast live on 98.7WFMT, Chicago’s classical music radio station. Beginning in 2010, the Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park has also been live streamed on www.WFMT.com. Says Cernota, “As a gift to the City of Chicago and the world at large, the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus allow free live radio broadcasts of these performances on WFMT.”

Over the years, dozens of internationally acclaimed and up-and-coming opera stars have performed in these concerts, some in their American debuts. They include Jamie Barton, Johan Botha, J’Nai Bridges, Lawrence Brownlee, Nicole Cabell, Andriana Chuchman, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Elizabeth DeShong, Natalie Dessay, Renée Fleming, Elizabeth Futral, Christine Goerke, Susan Graham, Denyce Graves, Nathan Gunn, Thomas Hampson, Ben Heppner, Brandon Jovanovich, Jonas Kaufmann, Quinn Kelsey, Mariusz Kwiecień, Amanda Majeski, Ana Marìa Martìnez, James Morris, Eric Owens, Felicity Palmer, Susannah Phillips, Matthew Polenzani, Patricia Racette, Sondra Radvanovsky, Christian Van Horn, Deborah Voigt, Amber Wagner, Erin Wall, and Dolora Zajick, among others.

The Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park concert Friday, September 8, 2017, will be led by Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric’s music director and principal conductor since 2000, who has led most of these free performances. Artists from Lyric’s upcoming 63rd season, along with the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, will perform highlights from several of the season’s featured operas.

What a wonderful way to end the summer while building excitement for a new opera season!

Opera with a Touch of Jazz

Opera with a Touch of Jazz

Opera with a Touch of JazzIn Opera with a Touch of Jazz, arranger Lee Evans adds subtle and tasteful jazz stylings to 18 operatic masterpieces from Cilea, Donizetti, Gluck, Mascagni, Massenet, Puccini, Purcell, Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, and Verdi. Evans, a 60-plus year member of AFM Local 802 (New York City), says he hopes the book will serves as a motivational tool for piano teachers and students, and introduce the works to a new generation. The book includes access to solo piano recordings of Evans performing the entire contents of the book. The files can be streamed or downloaded via a special code in the book.

Opera with a Touch of Jazz, arranged by Lee Evans, Hal Leonard,

Weston Sprott

Weston Sprott Lays His Cards on the Table

Weston-Sprott-cafeWhen the curtain closes for intermission at the Metropolitan Opera, the musicians step out of the pit, put down their instruments, and take a few moments to relax—and maybe even make a little extra cash. Weston Sprott, acting principal trombone for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra describes a perfect night at work: “A Strauss or Puccini opera with a great conductor and cast, and a run of good cards at the poker table during intermission.”

But win or lose, Sprott feels lucky when he returns to the pit, working with the world’s greatest musicians, singers, and conductors. “My favorite thing about playing with the Met is listening to my colleagues in the pit and on the stage. Participating in music making at this level is incredibly rewarding,” says Sprott. “Every night provides an education in beauty of tone and phrasing.”

Up the Ante

“My first thought was, ‘Wow, this just happened,’” Sprott remembers, referring to the day in 2005 when he learned he had won the second trombone position at the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. At 22 years old, it was undoubtedly a turning point. “More than excitement, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief, as though the pressure to find success in such a competitive world had been released.”

Sprott is a firm advocate for more orchestras to adopt the Met’s example of a fully blind audition process. “I have been a participant and observer of countless discussions about the need for orchestras to diversify their rosters and better reflect their communities,” he says. “In my experience, I have been the winner of numerous auditions where a screen was present from start to finish, but I have never won a professional audition where the screen came down.” Unfortunately, his experience is not unique.

“If you’re serious about diversifying your ensemble, the first of many steps is to raise the screen and let your ears (not your eyes) guide your artistic convictions,” Sprott advises. “Diversity will follow.”

His next thought on the day he won the Met position was of his parents, teachers, and mentors—all of whom invested countless hours in his personal and musical development. “I was thankful there would be something to show for their sacrifice,” he says.

Sprott spent two years studying at Indiana University before transferring to The Curtis Institute of Music, where he developed an especially close relationship with Nitzan Haroz of Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA), principal trombone of The Philadelphia Orchestra. A huge part of his education happened outside of school at Philadelphia Orchestra concerts; he was the orchestra’s biggest fan, religiously attending every week. “Curtis provided an atmosphere that was both demanding and supportive, leading me to believe, although much was required, I was capable,” he recalls. 

His instinct was correct and was quickly validated with a whirlwind of successes after graduation. “We work in an industry where the victors get the spoils,” says Sprott. “Winning the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra position opened the doors to my aspirations as a teacher, soloist, and chamber musician.

All In

Weston-Sprott-classroomSprott has taken full advantage of the opportunities he has been presented with—almost to a fault. “I’m convinced that I suffer from an overdeveloped work ethic,” he says. “It’s a characteristic that is simultaneously an asset and a weakness.”

In addition to the demanding schedule at the Met—on average performing four-hour shows seven days a week—Sprott has held positions with the Zurich Opera and Philharmonia, Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra, and Delaware Symphony Orchestra; performs in The Philadelphia Orchestra with his musical idols from his Curtis days; plays chamber music at venues like the 92nd Street Y; has been a soloist on four continents, making his Carnegie Hall solo debut in 2007; has recorded a solo album; and is on faculty at Mannes College (The New School for Music), Bard College, Rutgers University, and Juilliard Pre-College. He even helped design the “New Yorker” Weston Sprott Model trombone for the Antoine Courtois Instrument Company.

Sprott’s intense dedication started early. “When I started playing as a child, I immediately fell in love with the concept of sound creation,” he says. “My parents never had to encourage me to practice. In fact, they sometimes had to encourage me to come home from the band hall, or to put the instrument away and do something else.”

His friends shared his passion—Tim Higgins of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA), for example, who is now principal trombone of the San Francisco Symphony, was a high school classmate. The pair was in constant competition, battling for bragging rights and pushing each other to be better.

“We were the perfect depiction of iron sharpening iron: Who could play louder, faster, higher, softer?” Sprott remembers. “We went to symphony concerts on weekends and listened to Joseph Alessi’s recordings on the way to Sonic after marching band practice. Some people see spending the entire day with your instrument as discipline. We saw it as enthusiasm.”

These days, Sprott still wants to do it all—“play all the music, teach all the students, go to all the festivals”—but he’s striving to find a balance between work and rest. “Once or twice a year, my body sends me a firm reminder that I’m still only one person and there is only so much time in the day,” he says.

Even so, Sprott makes time to serve on the orchestra committee for the Met Opera Orchestra, a task that reinforces the value of AFM membership. “Beyond benefits related to collective bargaining and contract enforcement, AFM membership connects musicians of all levels and genres across the continent,” he explains. “Membership is a reminder that the work we do has value and we are not alone in our artistic pursuits.”

Pay It Forward 

Weston Sprott image1-2Knowing that his work has value is of the utmost importance to Sprott, who, above all, loves helping people. (“I think many of my friends would say that I’m someone they seek out for advice. In private, they might say that advice is sometimes unsolicited,” he admits.) Teaching, he finds, is the perfect outlet to positively influence the lives of others. Plus, he sees it as a way to “pay it forward” after being the beneficiary of great teachers throughout his training.

Some of his most rewarding teaching experiences are at the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival in South Africa, which hosts talented young musicians—many of whom don’t have access to regular high-level training or don’t own their
instruments. Sprott continues his relationships with these musicians long after the festival has ended, teaching via Skype or even sponsoring them to visit New York City and get a glimpse into the lives of full-time professional musicians.

Beyond bringing a wealth of knowledge to impart on the students each summer—this year will be his sixth—Sprott also brings donated instruments with him. “Here’s my shameless plug: If you have a decent instrument that you never use and that would be better off in the hands of an enthusiastic young musician, please contact me!” he implores.

Sprott puts a great deal of thought and energy into helping his students, and he advises them that it is paramount for any aspiring musician to have incredible enthusiasm for the craft. “Enthusiasm fuels work ethic,” he says. “John Wooden once said that work without joy
is drudgery.”

He also encourages students to be multi-dimensional. “In addition to being a great player, work to be a great writer, speaker, teacher, historian, or recording engineer,” he suggests. “Even for those who are fortunate enough to make a living from playing alone, great satisfaction can come from having multiple outlets of expression.”

Outside of performing and teaching, Sprott reads nonfiction (he leans toward books on self-improvement, interracial relations, and interpersonal skills). He is an avid sports fan (rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Indiana University Hoosiers), with a passion for travel (the vacations he and his wife take every year are preceded by a lengthy discussion about whether or not he is allowed to take his trombone along!). He’s also perfected his response to the comment that he looks like President Obama. “I’m a big fan of Obama … so, when I’m told I resemble him, I chuckle and take it as a compliment,” he says.

And, of course, there’s poker—lots of poker. “We play at every break of every [Met] performance and rehearsal,” Sprott says. “It’s tons of fun and a nice income supplement, often times courtesy of select colleagues who, for this article, will remain unnamed.”

Sprott is lucky at the poker table and is certainly having a great run in his career. “In my experience, there is no shortage of worthwhile opportunities available to those who work hard, treat people with dignity, and keep their focus on generosity of spirit and being good to others,” he says, noting that he is content to let his next steps unfold organically. “What I know for sure is whatever comes next will be done with these values in mind.”

We can bet on it.