Opera Orchestras in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Working List


Anyone in the Classical Music Industry, or anyone connected to folks in the industry, has likely seen this widely-read article by classical tenor Zach Finkelstein on their social media newsfeeds. In a time when future paychecks for many in the opera world have seemed to evaporate overnight, this article reports and lauds opera companies that are making good on their word to their artists. Or at the very least, they’re doing whatever they can to make sure their artists aren’t getting nothing.

When I read his article, I immediately shared the same admiration for these companies that Finkelstein and many other readers expressed. But then it occurred to me: Who all is included in the definition of “artists?”

The principal singers? The entire cast? Did it include the chorus, orchestra, or music staff? How about the stage crew, wardrobe dressers, wig masters and stage managers?

Indeed, the folks who comprise all of these listed groups are artists. (I may have inadvertently left out a group or two. Contact me if I have!) However, when opera companies categorize them administratively, some groups are sometimes classified otherwise. “Labor,” for example.

As a trombonist from an opera orchestra, naturally I wanted to dive into seeing which companies are currently compensating their orchestras during this Covid-19 Pandemic.

It doesn’t have to be 100% compensation. I would just like to recognize the opera companies whose orchestras aren’t being totally thrown to the wolves during a time of such dire financial stress for everyone. This isn’t to say every artist hired by these companies is being paid; I can only speak to my findings about orchestra musicians.

This is not a finalized, be-all and end-all list. This list will very likely evolve over the next few months. It will always be a work in progress. I have also included whether substitute and extra musicians for those orchestras are being compensated.

  • Arizona Opera. Sub/extra parity.
  • Austin Lyric Opera. Unknown about subs/extras.
  • Des Moines Metro Opera. Unknown about subs/extras.
  • Houston Grand Opera. Unknown about subs/extras.
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago. Subs/extras not paid from management, but from voluntary contributions by tenured orchestra members.
  • Minnesota Opera. Unknown about sub/extras.
  • Washington Concert Opera. Not a tenured orchestra, no subs/extras.
  • Washington National Opera. Subs/extras not paid from management, but from voluntary contributions by tenured orchestra members.

Going for factual reporting here, so:

About Doug Rosenthal

No one told Douglas Rosenthal to give up playing music. Not even his patient siblings, who endured many early-morning practice sessions; even they encouraged their brother to follow his passion. As the years passed, that passion evolved from simply playing music to advocating for music, musicians, and music-lovers. Douglas is based in Washington, DC. He is the Assistant Principal Trombonist of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra/Washington National Opera Orchestra. He currently makes his home on Capitol Hill in DC with a pug named Jake, who serves as a constant reminder to relax, eat well, and sleep plentifully.

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