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Opera Goers Being Deprived of Glittering Opening Night

September 6, 1990

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A curbside protest performance by the San Francisco Opera orchestra Wednesday was more like a dirge for one of the city’s best loved events - opening night at the War Memorial Opera House.

The opening scheduled for Friday, with the traditional diamond-dripping, dressed-to-the-nines glitter, was canceled for the first time in the opera’s 67 years because of a labor deadlock.

Opera enthusiasts deprived of the Suor Angelic and Pagliacci performances inside the War Memorial Opera House on opening night have been wooed by musical overtures on the sidewalk outside for the past two weeks.

″We need to let people know that everything is not all right. There are some rotten things going on,″ said David Budd, a cellist in the opera orchestra.

″We don’t like to be on the street. We are not homeless people. Our home is here (the opera house), but they won’t talk to us.″

The performance won the sympathy of many of the 40 passersby who paused to listen.

″It’s ridiculous, the total lack of regard for these people. They are the second best in the country, and they should be compensated,″ said John-Paul Nicolaides, a New York City resident who said he regularly watches the Metropolitan Opera at home and occasionally sees a performance in San Francisco.

The orchestra has been locked out of rehearsal since the musicians’ contract expired Aug. 20. The opera’s General Director, Lotfi Mansouri, said Tuesday there wasn’t enough time for rehearsals to go ahead with performances Friday and Saturday.

The Musicians Union Local 6 union has refused management’s offer of a 4 percent annual raise over a three-year contract. Finck said the offer would put average pay $43,000 a year in 1990 with $20,000 in benefits.

Musicians are asking for 4 percent raise the first year, 8 percent the second year and 10 percent the third.

A prolonged contract dispute between management and the 69-member orchestra could cancel the season altogether. A decision on whether to go ahead with other performances will be delayed until Friday, said opera spokesman Jon Finck.

The Opera Guild’s Opera Ball and the Museum of Modern Art’s champagne supper have already been called off. Florists, restaurants, hairdressers and limousine services also are expected to suffer.

But opera lovers say they are most concerned that the dispute could mean a loss of prestige for the city.

Martin Jakob, who runs a budget hotel for foreign travelers in San Francisco, put it this way: ″A lot of foreigners like San Francisco better than other American cities because is more European, and the opera contributes a lot to that.″

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