Fresno Grand Opera is late paying musicians for ‘Our Town’

A scene from the Fresno Grand Opera production of ‘Our Town.’ Musicians have not yet been paid for the Jan. 28 and 29 production.
A scene from the Fresno Grand Opera production of ‘Our Town.’ Musicians have not yet been paid for the Jan. 28 and 29 production. Special to The Bee

Fresno Grand Opera has not paid its orchestra members for the Jan. 28 and 29 production of “Our Town.” The union representing the musicians is filing charges with the state labor commissioner.

According to the musicians’ contract, payment for services is required within five business days of a final performance, said Larry Gardner, president of Local 12 of the American Federation of Musicians.

“As far as I know, no one in the orchestra has been paid,” Gardner said. “We’ve waited a long time on this, but it’s unlawful not to pay people for their work.”

The union is filing charges on the advice of its counsel, Gardner said. It will be the first time that step has been taken by the local.

$17,000 estimated total Fresno Grand Opera owes “Our Town” musicians

Twenty-two union-covered musicians were in the “Our Town” orchestra. Gardner estimates the payroll to be about $17,000, not including the cost of covering pension contributions and employer taxes.

The delay in meeting the musicians’ payroll is a worrisome sign for the opera company, which has had serious financial issues in recent years – and there were signs that this is more than a temporary cashflow issue.

Opera board members were meeting Monday at the company’s offices to discuss the organization’s financial situation. A representative of Townsend Opera in Modesto, which shares productions and an artistic staff with the Fresno company but maintains a separate board of directors, was on hand, along with legal representation.

Richard Jennings, Fresno Grand Opera board president, acknowledged the delay in paying musicians but said he couldn’t say more on the issue.

Everything is on the table.

Richard Jennings, Fresno Grand Opera board president

When asked if the board was working to keep the organization open, he replied: “At the moment we’re still deciding these issues. Everything is on the table.”

Last June the board of directors self-reported the organization to the state attorney general’s office for a long list of financial and ethical allegations against former management. The company’s general director, Matthew Buckman, said that he had been working without pay for some time.

Buckman also served as general director of Townsend Opera. He stepped down at the end of February from both his Fresno and Modesto duties, citing personal issues.

At the time of Buckman’s departure, Fresno Grand Opera announced a new organizational structure, with separate managing directors for the Fresno and Modesto organizations. Matthew Altamura, who recently joined Fresno Grand Opera’s board of directors, was named Fresno managing director. Buckman said that Altamura would work without pay until the organization’s finances are stable.

The Fresno company has another major joint production with Townsend Opera, “Of Mice and Men,” is scheduled for May 6 with union musicians in the orchestra pit. Gardner said he asked the opera company if the production is still planned but was told no decision has been made.