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  • Writer's pictureZach Finkelstein

In Graceful Letter to Artists, Seattle Opera Cancels Rest of Season, Citing Force Majeure

On March 25th, the General Director of Seattle Opera, Christina Scheppelman, informed its artists that "all Seattle Opera public events through May 31, 2020 are cancelled", including the final production of the season, Puccini's La Boheme. Due to Washington state's mandate of physical distancing, Seattle Opera will be unable to finish the season or pay artists contracts for La Boheme, citing Force Majeure.


In a compassionate letter to its artists, the General Director states her "deep regret and sadness", the "frustration", and the "devastating loss" for artists in the community.


While artists will not be paid for their contracts, Ms. Scheppelman states that some administrative staff will be furloughed and the remainder will have "considerable salary reductions, effective April 1, 2020".


The General Director says she is "infinitely sorry" for the loss, and ends with a message of hope:


Dear Artists,


We hope you are keeping yourselves safe and healthy during these unprecedented times.


Due to the recent Washington state order requiring non-essential businesses to close, coupled with the requirements of physical distancing and the unknown time frame for the ban on gatherings of any size, it is with deep regret and sadness that we have but no choice to cancel all rehearsals and performances of our final production of the season at McCaw Hall- Puccini’s La boheme.


No words can really describe the frustration of having to cancel a production and even greater is the frustration that none of us have any control over the circumstances that forced us to make this decision. This is a devastating loss for all of us, our artists, musicians, crew, staff, company, and our community.


Unfortunately, we have to invoke Force Majeure and will not be providing any payments to contracts for La boheme.


You are likely aware that Seattle Opera is a fiscally lean organization and you can imagine the impact that this cancellation will have on Seattle Opera’s health. This cancellation means 100s of our visiting and Seattle based artists and crew will lose employment this spring. We also have to furlough some administrative staff and those staff remaining will experience considerable salary reductions effective April 1, 2020.


Again, I am infinitely sorry for having to communicate this news to you all.


I hope that we will all be able to get back to bringing music to this community and may it be in a not too distant future.


Thank you,

Christina Scheppelmann

General Director – Seattle Opera

In a follow-up email to the "Seattle Opera community", sent after artists were informed, Scheppelmann told the public the production was cancelled. The public message focused on the safety of the artists and production team involved in La Boheme: "there is no safe way for the more than 100 people involved in this production to come together to prepare in the coming weeks for a May 2 opening."


One chorister, despite losing his entire fee for the upcoming production, felt heartened by the letter to artists and committed to Seattle Opera's mission moving forward:


"I can't imagine how hard it was to have to make a decision like this, especially with a very recently appointed General Director. I am confident that if they had any ability to keep the organization running and still pay us as artists after losing the largest show of their season, they would. The administration's choice to voluntarily cut their salaries speaks to that fact. They are committed to hitting the ground running in the future, and we as the artists will be ready to continue our collaboration."


ZF


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5 commentaires


Zach Finkelstein
Zach Finkelstein
27 mars 2020

Hey Chris,


I am not sure your connection to the industry as a performer, but at the highest levels the agent-singer relationship is a bit different and the singer has very little power or agency when it comes to big house contracts. For instance, the Met contract has a Force Majeure clause. The way it works is your agent gives you the contract and you sign it. If you want to work at the Met you have to sign it. Sometimes the Met comes back again and asks you to accept a lower fee and artists sign that, because it's the Met and you have to. Artists are not given a choice or ability to debate it.


Force Majeure clauses…


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theorhoffman
27 mars 2020

I am fully aware of the contract I signed. Given that these are unprecedented cancellations, I believe it’s important to view this through a human lens, instead of defending the language of the contract. If all the soloists go bankrupt, (and many very well may) the industry is shit out of luck. Moreover, why would singers commit their lives to an industry that is unable to support them? So yes, these companies do have a responsibility to the industry at large to support artists through this crisis. I believe with any luck, Force Majeure language in contracts will change drastically as a result of COVID-19.

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voicelessonswithchris
27 mars 2020

A few thoughts about this:


1. Yes it's a "gracious letter" however it certainly underlines the company's financial state. "Lean" seems to mean "almost broke" here.


2. Artists sign contracts with Force Majeure clauses in them every day. It's unfortunate that no one expects them to be enacted, but I think the implication that companies are EXPECTED to pay artists when they themselves can make no money during that time is misguided. A company's first responsibility is to the continuation of the production of art, not necessarily to the solo artists singing there. It is wonderful PR for places to be able to come up with that money, but any artist that has tricked him- or herself into thinking op…


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Zach Finkelstein
Zach Finkelstein
26 mars 2020

Hey Theo,


Thanks for checking in and the feedback. I understand your frustrations and your loss. I have lost 8 concert contracts to Force Majeure and four months of work through May. I certainly do not think that kind words make up for the thousands in lost fees. At the end of the day though, there will be many, many organizations that cannot pay us. This is a global crisis we have never seen in our lifetime. The recent jobs report released showed over 3 million jobs lost this week, far greater than that of the peak of the Great Recession, which saw the bankruptcy of many fine opera companies, including New York City Opera, where I made my debut…


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theorhoffman
26 mars 2020

Hi there. I am a principal artist contracted to perform on this Boheme, and I would appreciate if you didn’t use your platform to promote the idea that these kind words make up for citing force majeure and not paying artists. The company and the board in this instance fell short in their duty to the artists that Seattle Opera employs. Because of their decision, my cast mates and I just lost a MASSIVE portion of our salaries for 2020. I can no longer pay my bills. I am in check mate. It is not okay that a company this size is not providing ANY sort of compensation considering what companies much smaller have been able to scrape together for…

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