Judge’s decision puts an end to the drama of the San Antonio Opera Orchestra, for now
The synopsis from the opera of the 19th century composer Ruggero Leoncavallo Pagliacci reads almost like an interpretation of the current dispute between the San Antonio arts companies: “When a traveling troupe of actors arrives to perform in a bustling city, the secrets and jealousies between them threaten to explode on stage.
After the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) union made a concerted effort to stop its musician members from performing Pagliacci with Opera San Antonio on Thursday and Saturday nights, a federal judge stepped in to temporarily resolve the dispute.
At the heart of the issue is the Classical Music Institute (CMI), a resident company of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts which received a $300,000 grant from the Bexar County Commissioners Court be the orchestra for upcoming opera and ballet performances.
Before June disappearance of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestrathe musicians of this orchestra provided the music for the productions of the San Antonio Opera.
AFM Local 23 – which represented the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra and now represents the musicians of the new San Antonio Philharmonic Orchestra – objected to CMI hiring an ensemble without a union contract and had put the organization on the The union’s “international unfair list” to prevent unionized musicians across the country from working with CMI.
CMI started in 2016 primarily as a youth education program and chamber music ensemble. With the Bexar County grant, the group plans to expand to a 45-member orchestra accompanying performances by Ballet San Antonio and Opera San Antonio.
Earlier this week, the union warned 13 of its members hired by CMI to Pagliacci – several of whom had traveled from locations outside San Antonio – of penalties, including potential fines totaling $50,000 each if they chose to perform, and that they would cross the picket lines the union had the intention to organize Thursday and Saturday evenings.
CMI filed a lawsuit, seeking a temporary restraining order against the union.
United States District Court Judge Fred Biery on Wednesday ordered the union to withdraw the entire unfair list and barred the union from taking further action until a hearing set for Nov. 10, allowing CMI to continue its representations as scheduled.
The injunction is a temporary victory for CMI artistic director Paul Montalvo, who argued that no “primary labor dispute” existed between CMI and the union, the reason given by the union for the placement on its list.
One AFM member affected by the situation was Francesco Milioto, Musical Director of the San Antonio Opera who was to conduct the orchestra for the Pagliacci performances. Opera San Antonio has confirmed that Milioto will take the podium.
“There are over 42 dedicated and talented musicians who will be in the pit, and we expect it to be an incredible show,” a CMI spokesperson said in an email to the San Antonio Report. “Musicians are excited to play, they want to play.”
On November 1, Tobin Center President and CEO Michael Fresher sent a letter to AFM Local 23 President Richard Oppenheim warning that the strikers would be cited and evicted from the property by the police. Fresher’s letter noted that “the Tobin has no existing relationship with the union or SA Phil, so neither has a right of access to the Tobin’s property”.
The judge’s order also caused AFM Local 23 to cancel its picketing plans.
Prior to Biery’s decision, San Antonio Philharmonic President Brian Petkovich, a union member, was asked if members of that orchestra intended to join the picket line. “The San Antonio Philharmonic hopes that the Classical Music Institute and AFM Local 23 can find an amicable solution,” he said. “We respect all rights of musicians, including the right to freedom of expression.”
Tickets for both Pagliacci performances are still available via the Tobin Center Box Office.