Monsters and Critics
Placido Domingo stuck in musicians’ labour dispute
By Astrid Riehn Mar 22, 2011, 17:04 GMT
Spanish tenor Placido Domingo talks during a press conference about his performance scheduled for next 23 March, but not yet confirmed due to a trade dispute between the Estable Orchestra and the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Teatro Colon, the scene of one of the concerts, and the Government of the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 21 March 2011. EPA/LEO LA VALLE
Buenos Aires – Placido Domingo probably did not imagine that his opera performances Wednesday in Buenos Aires would be at risk until the very last minute due to a long-standing labour dispute between musicians and the city government.
But he does not flinch, and he stands by his trade.
‘I understand the problems. I’m not a victim of anything. There are circumstances that need to be solved,’ he told a press conference late Monday in the Argentine capital. ‘I will make every effort to talk to those responsible for this to be fixed fairly.’
Asked whether he is willing to become a star mediator in the conflict, he said it ‘would be a great satisfaction to be able to help.’
Domingo, 70, had been invited by the private Beethoven Foundation to perform twice Wednesday: once at the Teatro Colon, a traditional opera house regarded as one of the best in the world for its acoustics, and then on the adjoining avenue 9 de Julio, in an open- air event.
By Tuesday, however, the concert at the Teatro Colon had been cancelled. And the general director of the Washington National Opera and the Los Angeles Opera may have been happy that the conflict between the theatre’s permanent orchestra and city authorities did not make it impossible for him to perform in Buenos Aires at all.
The star mediator delivered: he met with musicians – who repeatedly highlighted Domingo’s ‘solidarity’ – and reached a compromise deal. Union delegate Jose Piazza told Argentine state news agency Telam that the orchestra would play with the world-famous guest in the open-air concert.
‘We value this gesture,’ Buenos Aires Culture Minister Hernan Lombardi said, to confirm the deal.
Conservative Mayor Mauricio Macri had said in advance that the cancellation is a ‘world-class fiasco.’
‘This is shameful. It is an Argentina that we do not want,’ Macri said earlier Tuesday.
But the Spanish tenor showed understanding. ‘I have been explained everything personally,’ he said Monday.
The press conference was first postponed by four hours, then started an hour and a half late because Domingo was meeting with the theatre’s musicians. Monday afternoon’s rehearsal was cancelled, too.
‘I understand the rights of the trade unions,’ Domingo said. ‘As a singer who has been performing for 50 years, and with 15 years as a theatre director, I understand the problems from all possible points of view – as a director, as a singer and as a musician.’
The conflict has been going on for months. The theatre is not selling season tickets, because it cannot guarantee all shows on the programme. The season opener, the opera Le Grand Macabre by Gyorgy Ligeti, is to be performed in a reduced version, with only a piano. And, if no deal is reached, ballet performances are to take place with recorded music.
Many of the musicians’ demands are years old, and go back to when they lost their seniority and a bonus they used to get to maintain and replace their instruments.
Now, they further demand a 40-per-cent pay hike in inflation- plagued Argentina, and want sanctions to be lifted against 25 employees for their protests.
Musicians said that they felt under no obligation to play with Domingo, because his concerts were organized by a private foundation that requested the participation of workers of the Teatro Colon.
‘Since one of the performances was to be at the Colon and we are on strike, we thought it was inappropriate to accept. The Beethoven Foundation then tried to get other musicians from orchestras elsewhere in the country, but most of them refused to play, in solidarity with us,’ a musician told the German Press Agency dpa, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Domingo admits that the situation is complex.
‘The issues are delicate. They can be solved, but it takes the will to do it,’ he said.
‘The problem here seems more difficult, because it is not about renegotiating but about something which (the musicians) already had and which has been taken away from them.’
He was careful, however, not to get too involved.
‘The problem is a lot more serious than it looks, and I say that without attacking the theatre or the political side,’ he insisted.
Still, Domingo is glad to be in Argentina, where he had not worked since 1998: ‘I never hesitated about coming.’
Domingo told reporters that he heard about the labour dispute some 10 days back, when an acquaintance showed him an online article with the headline, ‘Placido is short of an orchestra.’
‘If there was a wish, if there was a hope, I had to come,’ he said.
Domingo will at least get to perform in the open-air event, for which all 20,000 free tickets were quickly snapped up.
‘I know the orchestra is willing to help us, really,’ he said.
‘I have been on the side of the theatre and on the side of the artists. Unfortunately, it is the innocent people in the audience who suffer.’
Placido Domingo stuck in musicians’ labour dispute – Monsters and Critics