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NYC's Metropolitan Opera reaches deal with stagehands, expects to avert lockout

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - New York City's Metropolitan Opera reached a deal early Wednesday with its stagehands and said it expects to avert a lockout by reaching agreements with the remaining unions.

The opera company said rehearsals will continue and the season will open as scheduled Sept. 22 with a new production of Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro."

Fifteen unions representing about 2,500 chorus singers, orchestra musicians, stagehands, carpenters and others had been negotiating on and off since February. Their contracts expired July 31.

Met General Manager Peter Gelb had demanded pay cuts of about 17 per cent, saying production costs had skyrocketed and the operatic art was in trouble, with shrinking audiences. Union members said such a radical move was unwarranted, given the Met's $2.8 million deficit on a budget of $326 million. The Met management also wanted to slash pensions and health care benefits.

Details of the agreement with the stagehands were not disclosed, but Matthew Loeb, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, said the deal includes mandatory cost reductions from management and an independent monitor to track budget performance.

"We've always been willing to contribute to a solution that will keep the world's best operas in front of the world's greatest opera fans," Loeb said.

Published reports said deals reached earlier this week with the Met's orchestra and singers included substantial pay cuts as well as a management pledge to trim administrative costs.

With the lockout deadline approaching the 11th hour several weeks ago, a federal mediator stepped in to try to bring the two sides closer. Gelb's lockout deadline was extended several times while a financial analyst conducted a study of company accounts.

The stagehands were the largest bargaining unit that had not reached a tentative agreement before Wednesday.

Negotiations will continue Wednesday with eight smaller unions including those representing scenery painters and costume and makeup artists.

All the deals must be ratified by union members.

Salaries at the Met range from a base pay of more than $100,000 for orchestra musicians to $200,000 for chorus members, including huge overtime costs the unions have blamed on Gelb's penchant for extravagant productions.

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