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Liceu Opera Theatre to temporary lay off 90% of its staff for two months this spring

Barcelona’s Opera House faces a deficit of 3.7 million euros, after a reduction of public funds and other revenues. In the last weeks tense negotiations between the theatre’s management and employees are taking place. Workers are facing the temporary suspension of their contracts from March 20th to April 19th. Workers will also be affected from June 5th to the July 8th.

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21 February 2012 08:11 PM

by

ACN / Elisenda Barreda

Barcelona (ACN).- The staff of the Liceu Theatre in Barcelona, one of the most important opera houses in Europe, face the temporary suspension of their contracts from March 20th to April 19th. Workers will also be affected from June 5th to the July 8th, which means that for two months, 90% of the Liceu Theatre staff will be unemployed and seven performances will be cancelled. Barcelona\u2019s Opera House\u2019s management states that this measure is \u201Cinevitable\u201D and assures they are making \u201Call the possible efforts,\u201D in order to find mechanisms to strengthen the current and future viability of the Gran Teatre del Liceu. Negotiations with workers representatives are to be held and an agreement to be reached in order to adjust to the new economic situation. In a press release, the Liceu\u2019s management expressed its wish to maintain the criteria of high artistic quality in all shows. However, workers\u2019 representatives are considering going on strike coinciding with the next representation of \u2018La Bohème\u2019.


Debt and less funds from the Catalan Government

The Liceu Theatre has a debt of 3.7 million euros, because of a reduction of public contributions, patronage, ticket sales and other revenues. In the presentation of the 2012 Catalan Government\u2019s Budget, the Catalan Minister for Culture, Ferran Mascarell, announced a 10%-15% reduction in governmental contributions to large cultural centres such as the National Theatre of Catalonia, Barcelona\u2019s Auditorium or the Liceu Theatre. In the Opera House\u2019s case, this year\u2019s contribution will be 8.1 million euros, 13% less than last year.

Liceu\u2019s management has made quite clear the need for rearranging the labour framework with structural measures. These include higher flexibility in order to guarantee the stability of jobs, as well as an increase in productivity and a salary revision. 

Unsuccessful negotiations

These salary cutbacks were announced after several days of unsuccessful negotiations between the management and employees of the Liceu Theatre. The workers complained about the lack of information provided by the theatre\u2019s management when it came to explaining the consequences that these measures would have and how many people would be affected. The employees proposed a temporary 12% reduction in salaries, a measure that would help to save 1.5 million euros. Management demanded a permanent reduction. Workers\u2019 representatives also criticised the \u201Ccold answer\u201D given by the management when they proposed to give up the extra summer payment in order to save the opera season. Besides, almost 2,000 people have already signed an online petition to ask for the resignation of the Director General of the Liceu Theatre, Joan Francesc Marco.

Reactions to these new measures

Michael Bolder, the Musical Director of the Liceu Theatre, believes that the decisions taken are not the most appropriate option for facing the economic recession. According to Bolder, closing the theatre for 2 months entails certain risks. For him, solutions could entail giving more work to the orchestra and choir of the Liceu, simplifying the administrative machine and restructuring the framework agreement.

Manuel Martinez, the president of the workers\u2019 committee, states that appropriate management of the situation is vital in order to stage high quality operas with a budget of 46 million euros.  

The Catalan tenor Josep Carreras considers that these economic measures \u201Care not a drama for Catalan culture, but for the workers of this institution who are paying the consequences.\u201D Approximately 550 people work at the Liceu Opera House, 150 of which are hired by external companies working on security and cleaning of the theatre.

The Liceu is going to cancel those shows with the least number of bookings. For this reason, the artistic authorities within the theatre deem that going for \u201Cmore popular and successful box office titles\u201D will damage the international projection of the theatre.

Possible reprisals

If these measures move forward, the workers\u2019 committee does not rule out the possibility of organising a strike or offering free concerts to complain about the measure as from February 27th, the day of the premiere of La Bohème. The strike will coincide with the days the opera is programmed. \u201CIf the company withdraws these measures, we will withdraw the strike call\u201D explains Manuel Martinez, spokesman of the workers\u2019 committee. 

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  • Liceu staff protesting in front of the Opera House (by R. Garrido)

  • Liceu staff protesting in front of the Opera House (by R. Garrido)