The Unsung Heroes of COVID-19
Updated: Apr 8
(UPDATE 3/17/2020: 88 organizations. Thanks to Arwen Myers, Sarah Brailey, Abigail Levis and others for your additional copy and research.)
When the dust settles at the end of spring, when we freelancers unpack our suitcases and tally the psychological and financial damage from lost contracts, cancelled flights and hotels, and time away from our partners, our kids, and our friends, there will be a reckoning.
There will be grief and tragedy: presenters that left musicians stranded in hotels with no payments for weeks of work; an opera company that let performers know their five-figure opera contracts were cancelled through a press release; and bad actors that, seeing reduced ticket sales for their organization, ignore existing contracts and pressured singers, some household names, to take vastly reduced fees.
There is hope.
Small non-profits that faced an existential crisis and made the tough choices. Mid-size opera companies that ripped up the disastrous Force Majeure clause in every contract and said, “I’m with our artists.” Presenters that went back to their communities, their boards, their own personal checkbooks and said, “we need to make this right."
Below are the unsung heroes of COVID-19: 88 organizations I’ve verified are taking the high road and keeping their artists afloat. Bravi to you all for vision and leadership.
1. 32 opera and ballet companies are leading the way on protecting their artists.
Houston Grand Opera is the first A-level house confirmed to pay its artists. It cancelled its Magic Flute before rehearsals began. One principal has confirmed they are paying out 50% of fees, despite force majeure. Bravi, bravi, bravi! Thank you for leading the way.
Arbeit Opera Theatre in the Twin Cities was forced to cancel its upcoming performances of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, but has offered its artists half compensation and is working to reschedule the production with its original roster. Artists will receive the remaining half of their fee upon completion of those performances. Thank you to Artistic Director Kelly Turpin and the rest of the staff and board.
Fargo Moorhead Opera in Fargo, North Dakota will be offering half fees for their canceled upcoming production of Cavalleria Rusticana. Thank you, General Director David Hamilton and the rest of the FMO staff and board.
Lincoln Center Theater had to suspend performances of Intimate Apparel through April 12 and has committed to continuing paying its artists. One of the artists involved said, “Along with Broadway we hope to return April 13. IA is their first opera and fortunately for all of us it was under their production.” Thank you, to Artistic Director André Bishop, Managing Director Adam Siegel, and the rest of the Lincoln Center Theater team!
Lyric Opera of Orange County had to postpone its March 27th production of HMS Pinafore until September. President and Artistic Director Diana Farrell says, “With nothing coming in for a long time we can only pay half of fees now - 4 rehearsals in - and half later plus a stipend increase in September. We are an organization run completely by volunteer staff and admin in the middle of our first full season as a nonprofit, but the singers who create with us are the reason we exist.” Thank you, Diana!
Pacific Opera Project in Los Angeles has offered each of its contracted artists at least half fees for their production of Così fan tutte, which was canceled after only one day of rehearsals. Thank you for your generosity, Artistic Director Josh Shaw and Executive Director Matt Cook.
Shreveport Opera has offered full fees to its singers for upcoming performances of The Marriage of Figaro. Huge thanks to General/Artistic Director Steve Aiken, Executive Director/COO Cathey Sholar, and the rest of the Shreveport Opera team.
Portland Opera was forced to cancel their full run of public performances of Vivaldi’s Bazajet due to concerns over COVID-19, three weeks into rehearsal. Portland Opera has committed to paying the full fees of the entire cast for the production. A big thank you to Sue Dixon, General Director as well as Producing Director Laura Hassell and Interim Artistic Director Daniel Biaggi.
Edmonton Opera in Alberta cancelled all three performances of 'Candide', based on recommendations from Alberta Health Services. They paid all their performers the full fee. Thanks to Tim Yakimec for your courage.
Virginia Opera is leading the way out of this arts crisis. They cancelled their production of Aida before tech, but paid for 3 out of 6 (50%) performance fees as compensation to principals. Thank you Russell P. Allen and Adam Turner!
Opera Tampa was forced to cancel their production of Pirates of Penzance on the morning of opening night. Multiple principals have confirmed they ignored Force Majeure: they paid every artist their full fee. Thank You Opera Tampa for taking care of your artists!
Opera Southwest had to cancel their production of La Traviata but paid their artists a pro rated fee for time rehearsed. Bravi and thanks for your courage.
Madison Opera cancelled 'Orpheus and the Underworld' this week. They're paying all independent contractors at least 75% of their fees and will try and pay the remaining based on ticket sales (not asking for refunds). Payment includes principal artists, chorus, stage management team, wig and makeup team, props team, wardrobe team, designers, tech, lighting, carpenters, sound. They've committed to paying EVERYONE. Thanks to Kathryn Smith, John DeMain, and Board for your courage.
Grand Rapids Opera cancelled their most recent production, but is making a professional video recording of the dress rehearsal, password protected for ticket holders. They will pay their artists the full fee for two performances, and changed flights out of their own pockets to ensure artists made it home to their families. As one artist describes, "they’re just wonderful, and I have the utmost respect for this company and their AMAZING Executive Director Emilee Syrewicze!"
Atlanta Opera was forced to cancel their run of Porgy and Bess. They paid all artists involved the full fee for the entire run. Thank you, Tomer Zvulun for helping artists keep the lights on.
Opera Birmingham is paying all contracted artists two-thirds of their fee for all the work done after cancellation. One artist says, "This is no small feat for them and I admire their dedication to trying to protect their artists. Larger companies should take note." Thank you to General Director Keith A. Wolfe for your generosity.
North Carolina Opera's latest run of Die Zauberflöte was cancelled after finishing first week of rehearsal. Eric Mitchko convinced the board to pay them 20% of their contract. Thank you, Eric.
Pensacola Opera latest run of Il Trovatore was cancelled. They “went the extra mile” by compensating 50% of artist fees (1 of 2 performances). Artists, as of today, have already been paid. Thank you, Jerome Shannon.
Opera San Jose, after cancelling its latest run, has asked ticket holders to consider changing their refunds to donations that will go directly to singers. They’ve also set up a crowdsourced fund called the 'Artists and Musicians Relief Fund' for their artist fees to ensure their singers survive. You can read their message and donate here. Thank you Khori Dastoor for your leadership.
Annapolis Opera is rescheduling performances of Susannah to the summer but are paying all artists for rehearsal time. Thank you so much, General Director Kathy Swekel and Ronald J. Gretz.
Dell’Arte Opera has cancelled its latest fundraising gala, but is compensating its artists 50% of the artist fee. For a small company on a tight budget, this is a big ask. Thanks
Lyric Opera Kansas City, after two performances has cancelled its final two performances of Lucia di Lammermoor. The company is paying for three of the four originally scheduled performances, or 75% of the original artist fee. Thank you, Deborah Sandler for your leadership.
San Francisco’s Pocket Opera paid its artists for a full run of Don Giovanni, despite having had to cancel the third performances. Thank you Nicolas A. Garcia for helping your artists survive.
Indianapolis Opera paid their singers 50% of their fees up front for Don Giovanni. They’re not sure if the show will happen next week, but one soprano says “no matter what, we have half our fee and they are being incredibly understanding and flexible”. The company is considering performing in a different, smaller space as a live stream instead of the entire run. Thank you, David Craig Starkey for your leadership.
Opera Bend, a small company based in Central Oregon, is currently livestreaming to an empty room for its production of L'Elisir d'Amore. Despite cancelling all three performances, all artists are being paid in full. Thank you Jason Stein for your courage.
The Bay Area's Livermore Valley Opera will also pay full fees for their abbreviated run of 'Florentine Tragedy' and 'Gianni Schicchi'. Thanks to Artistic Director Erie Mills and the board!
Opera Omaha's 'One Festival' is postponed, but the company will "fulfill its contractual commitments to its artists and its crew". Much needed thanks for General Director Roger Weitz and Festival Artistic Director James Darrah!
Utah Opera was scheduled to open Rossini's 'Barber of Seville' on March 14th, but cancelled due to COVID-19. They paid out the full fee for 5 performances. That decision was led by Artistic Director Christopher McBeth and Interim President & CEO Pat Richards. Thank you!
Florentine Opera recorded its opening night performance to a limited audience, and sent ticket holders a link to the video so they could watch from home. According to my sources, they paid 50% of artist fees. Thanks to the leadership of General Director Maggey Oplinger and Artistic Administrator Lisa Hanson!
Tapestry Opera in Toronto (shoutout to my old stomping ground!) under the visionary direction of Michael Mori cancelled its Songbook X new music program. Instead of SongbookX, they will live stream a performance of Krisztina Szabo and Chris Foley on March 21st. All performers are being paid out in full. Tapestry is currently moving forward with its new music opera, Rocking Horse Winner. If that production is cancelled, all artists will be paid: "Many artists live paycheque to paycheque. In this destabilizing time of cancellations, Tapestry is committed to doing whatever we can to support our community of opera professionals". Class. Act.
Sarasota Opera cancelled the rest of their season and paid out all performers in full. According to multiple sources, the cast, chorus and crew members of all four operas of the season and some members of the orchestra ended the run with a rousing and tearful, 'Va Pensiero'.
Chicago Opera Theatre cancelled their scheduled Gala and, despite the financial hardship, Chicago Opera Theatre is ignoring the Force Majeure clause and paying its artist the full fee. One singer involved told me, she's "grateful they’re in a position to do so and made the choice to in an uncertain time". Thank you Ashley Magnus and Lidiya Yankovskaya for your leadership, COT!
Oklahoma City’s Painted Sky Opera has committed to paying all singers and instrumentalists for its postponed productions of La Serva Padrona & Service Provider. One of the artists involved says, “I'm proud to be a part of an organization that does the right thing in times of crisis.” Bravo, indeed to Executive Director Barbara DeMaio and Artistic Director Rob Glaubitz!
Palm Beach Opera was forced to cancel its upcoming production of Eugene Onegin but has committed to paying its artists half of their fee. Thanks to General Director David Walker and all involved in this decision.
Pensacola Opera has offered to pay its Resident Artists for the remaining two weeks of their contracts. Thank you for looking out for these young artists, PO staff & board!
2. 32 Choral, Concert, and Chamber Groups have made significant financial commitments to ensure the safety of their artists.
Bach Society of Minnesota canceled two concerts hours before the first concert after the governor announced the ban on large public gatherings. The orchestra and soloist are being reimbursed fully for travel and will be paid the majority of their fee. Thanks to Andrea Leap, Matthias Maute, Marco Real d'Arbelles, and the BSM board.
The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus decided to cancel its concerts last weekend after one rehearsal (the first of five calls) and still paid everyone involved in the concert in full, not just the musicians but also the designers, tech and front of house staff. They had hired a medium-sized orchestra and commissioned a large, 50-minute work for this concert. Thanks to Craig Coogan and Reuben Reynolds for looking out for its artists.
The City Choir of Washington has agreed to pay its soloists their full fee for the Duruflé Requiem and Bach B Minor Mass. Thanks to Bob Shafer.
Coro Allegro in Boston had to cancel its concert “Shofar: In Memoriam” immediately before the dress rehearsal in early March but has committed to paying its soloists half their fee. Thanks to David Hodgkins and Yoshi Campbell.
Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra was forced to cancel its April concert of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, but the board has elected to pay all of the musicians their full fees. Huge thanks to Leela Breithaupt and Barthold Kuijken for their humanity.
Lyra Baroque Orchestra in the Twin Cities was forced to cancel its March performances of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater and Jommelli's Requiem due to the travel ban on European citizens that prevented its conductor from traveling to the US. The organization is working to reschedule the program for next season. They have promised to pay the majority of the soloists' fees regardless of whether or not the program is rescheduled. Huge thanks to Tami Morse, Jacques Ogg, Mark Levine, Lyra Baroque's board, and to the many generous members of the orchestra who offered to donate their fees in order to make this possible.
Pacific MusicWorks in Seattle has offered its artists partial fees for their canceled performances, and they will be working with their contracted artists to reschedule these concerts for the 2020-21 season. Thank you to Artistic Director Steven Stubbs, Managing Director Philip Tschopp, and the Board of Directors.
Portland Baroque Orchestra in Portland, Oregon, was scheduled to play a three-concert set, five shows with Portland Opera, and a gala over the course of three weeks this March. All of these projects were canceled, although the first of the three-show run was converted to a livestream on YouTube. PBO paid its players their full fees for that concert set, in addition to rearranging travel plans on its own dime and donating the full three weeks of per diem money, which had already been distributed, to its musicians. Details for the collaboration with Portland Opera and for the gala are still forthcoming. Thank you for setting the bar high, Executive Director Abigail McKee and Artistic Director Monica Huggett!
Vocal Essence in the Twin Cities cancelled its April concert without plans to reschedule but the organization has committed to paying its artists 50% of their fee. Thanks Philip Brunelle and Mary Ann Aufderheid
Miami-based pro-choral group Seraphic Fire is cancelling the rest of their Northern Lights series. All thirteen singers will be paid for their full contract for all five performances. Thank you, Patrick Dupré Quigley for honoring your commitments.
New York-based Voices of Ascension was forced to cancel a Brahms Requiem on March 26. In a touching note to singers, they empathized about living "paycheck to paycheck" and offered 50% of fees up front, the rest to follow upon reschedule. Bravo Maestro Dennis Keene!
The Dearborn Symphony cancelled a series of Children's concerts scheduled next week. All musicians will be paid. Thank you to the board, Sandy Butler, and Music Director Steven Jarvi for your solidarity.
Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montreal has cancelled its series 'Miserere en quatre temps' and has paid all their artists. Merci de votre générosité, SMAM!
Cappella Romana in Oregon under the leadership of Mark Powell will honor their fees to professional singers for the cancelled concert of Tchaikovsky’s Divine Liturgy, and will livestream the concert for the public without an in-person audience.
Conspirare has rescheduled its April Robert Kyr concerts to next season, and is offering us roughly a 30% fee up front, with a personal note of gratitude from their choral contractor: "thinking of you all at this most unusual and difficult time". Thanks Craig Hella Johnson for your commitment to artists.
Westmoreland Festival Chorus is a community chorus that partners with DC ensembles and soloists to offer benefit concerts. Their administrator Alec Davis offered a full advance to his performers on a series he had to postpone. Thank you, Alec Davis.
Bella Voce of Chicago announced two donors stepped in to honor all artist fees, despite the postponement of ‘Lost Objects’. One soloist says “she is feeling stunned and deeply grateful”. Thank you, Andrew Lewis.
Dryden Ensemble’s most recent three concerts at Princeton are all cancelled. Artists are getting the full fee. They’ll be making a video and audio recording for everyone who purchased tickets. Thank you, Jane McKinley.
The Cantata Collective in Berkeley, California is cancelling their March 22nd concert and has agreed to pay its artists 50% of all fees. Thank you to the musicians of the Cantata Collective.
Coro Allegro in Boston cancelled its March 8th performance of Robert Stern's Shofar right before the dress rehearsal, and paid its soloists 50% of their artist fee. Thank you, David Hodgkins for your integrity.
True Concord Voices and Orchestra postponed their Mass in B Minor this month,. Not only has the organization committed to programming the concert next season in addition to their normal full season, but despite a potential deficit for the year, they committed in the email to paying an advance of half the artist fee through additional fundraising. The artistic director had a "passionate discussion" with the board, and they all decided to create a fund for artist relief, to go back to their donors to explain the situation and ask for additional funds to help artists. Thank you Eric Holtan and staff for your leadership!
The Henry Purcell Society of Boston has cancelled its most recent program of English baroque music, but is paying a partial fee to all performers. Thank you so much to Jessica Cooper and William Chapman.
Orchestre symphonique de Drummondville in Quebec has cancelled its most recent program and will honor its commitment to the musicians for the full fee. Merci beaucoup pour votre générosité, Julien Proulx.
Princeton University Chapel's March 28th performance of the Mozart Mass in C Minor has been cancelled, and all artists have been paid in full. Thanks for your commitment to artists, Penna Rose.
Bitterroot Baroque out of Montana has committed to paying its most recent recital artists full fee and travel, despite cancellation of its most recent program of Monteverdi and Strozzi. Alex Schaffer, you have our thanks.
Early Music Vancouver (British Columbia) has cancelled their Beethoven's 50th celebration concert series, but is paying 50% of all artist fees. Thanks Matthew White for the beautiful music you bring to the Northwest and your generosity.
Washington Bach Consort cancelled two Bach St. John Passions. Artistic director Dana Marsh should be commended for his statement: "The Washington Bach Consort is doing its best to look after all musicians involved in these cancelled concerts, knowing that performers have hit hard times financially. I'm proud to say that base fees for all rehearsals and one performance will still be paid out."
The Washington Chorus has committed to paying all professional choral singers 100% of all contractual rehearsal and performance fees for all performances and rehearsals, even when cancelled due to COVID-19. Bravo and thank you for your solidarity.
Atlanta's Kinnara Ensemble cancelled their March 20-22 'Immortal Bach' and are paying artists 50% of their fee based on board and donor contributions. Shoutout to friend and colleague J.D. Burnett for his heart and dedication to singer.
Skylark Ensemble, a mid-sized, Boston-based chamber choir, will be mailing all artists this week a 50% check for all cancelled April concerts. Over the next six weeks, they aim to close the gap through additional fundraising. They are also looking to hire underemployed artists in temporary admin roles next season, according to Ensemble Manager, Sarah Moyer: "We know that some of our artists may be looking for additional income sources over the coming months. We may be able to raise some funds to support some remote work on behalf of Skylark’s 2020-2021 season over the next few months. Likely activities could include writing personal thank you notes to subscribers, making phone calls to ticket buyers, etc. Contact us if you would like to explore this, and we can discuss further." Thank you to going to bat for us, Matthew and Carolyn Guard and Sarah Moyer!.
Music Friends, a classical music house concert series in Vancouver, BC, has cancelled one show and paid out the artists 50%. Thanks for the update, Bing Dai!
Choral Arts NW in Washington State is paying out 25% to artists for all cancelled contracts. Thanks, Philip Tschopp!
2. The vast New York City Church Community, across denomination, is in solidarity with its artists, and other major regional churches (24) across the US are stepping up to ensure their artists survive.
Trinity Wall Street, arguably one of the top choirs in New York City, has agreed to continue to pay its staff singers and two orchestras, Trinity Baroque and Novus NY, through June despite cancelled services. In addition, Trinity's p r i s m Kennedy Center performance was cancelled- Trinity paid full fees to the choir and orchestra. Thanks to the clergy leadership and music director Julian Wachner for providing for your artists in their time of need.
St. Thomas Fifth Avenue in New York City has agreed to pay the gentlemen of the choir for all missed liturgical services (5 calls/week, plus one paid rehearsal) for the foreseeable future. At the moment, all regular services have been canceled, with the exception of Sunday mornings. Sundays will involve a quartet of singers, plus 4-5 clergy, to keep total numbers involved to 10 people total or less. Staff singers who are not part of this quartet will still be paid. Warm thanks to Father Carl Turner and Jeremy Filsell.
St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City has committed to paying its staff singers in full through the end of the season. Thank you, K. Scott Warren.
5th Avenue Presbyterian in New York City has cancelled its Lent choir concert, but will stay pay its staff singers in full. Thank you for your generosity, Dr. Ryan Jackson and to the Perper Foundation for underwriting. All professional singers will continue to be paid by the church for cancelled services.
Church of the Holy Trinity in New York and Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church cancelled services due to COVID-19 and paid their staff singers in full. Thanks Rector Rev. John F. Beddingfield and Cleveland Kersh at Holy Trinity, and Rev. Jenny M. McDevitt, Dr. Andrew E. Henderson, and Mary W. Huff at Madison Avenue Presbyterian for your support.
The Church of Ascension's 18 singers and St. John the Divine's musical staff in NYC are paying their staff despite cancellations. Thank you to Reverend Kearney and Preston Smith at the Church of Ascension and The Right Reverend Andrew Dietsche and Kent Tritle at St. John the Divine for your compassion and service to the music community.
Rockefeller Chapel in Chicago has suspended services until April 15th and made a commitment to pay its msusic staff. Thank you Dean Charles and Matthew Dean for your generosity.
Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago will continue to pay its 24-voice choir, organist, and music director while public worship is suspended. Thanks to Shannon Kershner, John Sherer, and Chris Norton.
Grace Lutheran cancelled two performances of St. Matthew Passion at the end of March. Bach Cantata Vespers in River Forest, IL, has chosen not to enact the “act of God” clause fully in the contracts. All contracted soloists and orchestra members are receiving 50% of their fee. Thank you to director Michael D. Costello for your courage.
Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota, Florida will continue to pay all its employees their full salaries, including its eleven staff singers, which will not count against their paid vacation time. Thanks goes to The Rev. Charleston Wilson, Senior Priest Associate for Evangelism & Parish Development, and to Dr. Ann Stephenson-Moe, Organist and Choirmaster.
The Cathedral of St. John Albuquerque in New Mexico has committed to paying its four staff singers and four choral scholars through the rest of the season, regardless of cancellations. Thank you, Maxine Thevenot for doing right by your musicians.
Washington National Cathedral had to cancel its performances of the St. Matthew Passion scheduled for April 5 but will pay the artists in full. Thanks to Director of Music Michael McCarthy and Dean Randy Hollerith, who said, “Our musicians are among our greatest blessings at the Cathedral. We will stick together and make our way through this.”
The Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston is switching to televised services, allowing paid singers to continue to serve despite recent restrictions on large gatherings. Thank you to the Very Reverend Monsignor Kevin J. O’Leary and Richard J. Clark for your commitment to the arts.
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland will continue to stream services and pay its staff singers through the rest of the season. Thank you Very Rev'd Nathan LeRud and Bruce Neswick for your compassion.
Trinity Lutheran on Whidbey Island has suspended all services, but is keeping music staff on the payroll. Thank you for your grace and courage.
First Baptist Church in Lexington, MA is paying its 4 section leaders for 1 rehearsal and 2 services, despite shutting down for 2 weeks. Thank you Pastor Mark Jackson and Music Director Robert Eaton for valuing your singers.
First Congregational Church in Greenwich CT is paying their section leaders for rehearsals and worship during our indefinite closure. Thanks, Craig Scott Symons!
St. James Cathedral in Seattle has more than 20 paid staff singers. They’ve recently had to close due to a ban on Mass from the Archdiocese and a ban from the state on groups of 250 people or more. St. James is paying its staff singers for all Thursday rehearsals and Sunday calls during this crisis. Bravo Joseph Adam and Father Ryan for seeing my friends and colleagues through this disaster.
The following Boston churches are confirmed to pay their singers through the COVID-19 crisis: Parish of the Epiphany and King's Chapel. The Church of the Advent will pay its singers through the end of March. What an overwhelming show of support from the Boston sacred music community. Thank you.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill, PA, was due to present Trio Eos in late March. The church is reimbursing travel and will pay the artists most of their fee, even though they have to postpone indefinitely. Thank you to Music Director Andrew Kotylo.
Thank you to these brave organizations for letting us know that, in these most difficult times, we are not alone.