The Paris Opera house, facing the longest strike in its history

L’Opéra de Paris face à la grève la plus longue de son histoire

In the world of culture, the social movement launched in the country on 5 December against a planned pension reform, is concerned only with the Opera and the Comédie-Française.

4 January 2020 21h36

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The Paris Opera house, facing the longest strike in its history

Rana Moussaoui

Agence France-Presse

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PARIS — The Paris Opera has seen a myriad of strikes in recent decades, but is currently going through the worst block of his recent history : three weeks of paralysis to protest against the project of pension reform, 63 shows cancelled and more than 12 million euros of losses…

“Over the past 30 years, this is the strike the longest and the greatest losses heavy” in connection with a strike, indicates the institution’s tercentenary to the AFP.

In the world of culture, the social movement launched in the country on 5 December against a planned pension reform, is concerned only with the Opera and the Comédie-Française.

In comparison, the strike in 2007 against a first reform of the “special diet” had caused the cancellation of 17 performances and losses of 3.2 million euros.

The dancers of the Opera, only to retire at the age of 42, to defend tooth and nail the plan, which dates back to king Louis XIV (1638-1715). They refused to accept a recent proposal according to which the reform would enter into force for the dancers recruited after January 1, 2022.

The season resumes on January 11, and the ministry of Culture has indicated to the AFP that “the discussions with management and staff representatives continue”.

Mortgage on the future

Behind-the-scenes and studios, the preparations for the next works seem to unfold as expected : the French baritone Florian Sempey has tweeted to be “happy” to be back to the “Barber of Seville”, the first opera to appear; the star dancer Hugo Marchand has posted on Instagram a video of him repeating his role in the ballet “Giselle”.

After the Opera, the hecatomb of shows cancelled has caused a “significant decrease in the working capital fund”.

“This mortgage investments for future seasons, in particular for the planned work. There will be financial implications on the operation and the budgets”, specified the institution, which celebrated in 2019 its 350 years.

If the strikes of the technicians of the Opera, are commonplace since the 70s, the Ballet is a rarity and the presence of his dancers in the street new.

In 1984, he was exceptionally a strike for a few days after the suspension by the management of the negotiation on a new collective agreement.

Some strikes remain memorable as that in 1998, adopted in extremis by the artists of the choir before a performance of la Traviata. The management decided to cancel the evening, under the boos of the audience already installed.

Or a performance of the ballet “the nutcracker” with unique décor and free costume in 2007 during which Dorothée Gilbert has been named a principal dancer. Without counting the multiple levers of curtains late, and the opera finally given in a concert version.

With the exception of 2007, “strikes were still focused on wage claims, categorical, on the collective or the organization of work and usually lasted a few days,” said to AFP a former director of the house.

“Relationship broken”

According to the former director, “it would be necessary to imagine a system that could articulate training and retirement to ensure the dancers an outlet after leaving the Opera, because many of them are in a big trouble” by the result.

The State contributes half of the funding of the pension fund of the Opera (14 million euros per year, almost 1,900 contributors).

In an internal letter seen by AFP, the past director, Stéphane Lissner, which was succeeded in 2021, the German Alexander Neef, feared, in addition to the economic consequences, that “the relationship with (the) public is not so permanently damaged”.

“There will be a certain way on a policy of reconquest of the public and a number of gestures towards the spectators will be in place,” says the Opera to the AFP.

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