Israeli Opera Proposes Massive Chorus Layoff

By Francisco Salazar

The Israeli Opera has proposed to lay off 55 members of the chorus.

On Thursday, Nov. 12, members received letters summoning them to hearings that are a preliminary requirement before a layoff. The news comes months after many members of the chorus, who are older and are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, have been furloughed since March due to COVID-19 crisis. The Israeli Opera has not performed since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to a statement by a spokesman from Shaham, the Israeli Actors’ Association, the opera announced its plan to lay them off after breaking off negotiations on a new contract as a way to save money by hiring replacement singers at cheaper rates as freelancers in the future.

According to a report, members of the chorus make about NIS 50,000-60,000 per year, which is borderline minimum wage and they are paid about NIS 300 per performance.

The Israeli Opera has one of the highest budgets of any cultural organization, with an annual budget of about NIS 100 million.

In response to the allegations, the opera company released stating, “A number of cases around the world show that infection rates among chorus singers are extremely high. Only recently were opera performances resumed [in some parts of the world]. In St. Petersburg, with the performance of a chorus, more than half of the participants were infected. In order to protect the health of all the participants in the opera productions and the opera staff, the Israeli Opera has decided to hold only productions without a choir in the coming season. This situation may continue even in the 21/22 season if the coronavirus does not pass. In light of the fact that it is not clear when it will be possible to resume productions with a chorus, the Israeli Opera has already decided to transfer to the chorus singers all the money accumulated to their credit, including severance pay, to help them deal with the difficulties of unemployment for such a long time. This move is made transparently and sensitively with the aim of helping the singers as much as possible during this difficult time.”