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Performing arts trade union responds to Welsh National Opera chorus cuts

13 May 2024 5 minute read
Jaquelina Livieri as Margarita Xirgu, Julieth Lozano Rolong as Nuria WNO. Credit Johan Persson

The performing arts trade union representing Welsh National Opera (WNO) chorus members will keep all options open to “fight an attack” on pay and conditions amid funding cuts, the General Secretary has said.

The orchestra and chorus are currently under threat of being made part-time following funding cuts, which supporters say will be devastating for the nation.

High profile artists including Luke Evans, Katherine Jenkins and Michael Sheen have signed a letter calling for emergency cross-border funding for the Opera.

Their intervention follows the publication of an online petition set up by the WNO orchestra in conjunction with the Musicians’ Union calling for it to be retained as a full-time company.

The petition has reached over 9000 signatures so far.

Artistic backbone

WNO has signalled an intent to put revised contract proposals on the table for those in the chorus who are members of the performing arts and entertainment trade union, Equity.

The union says it has always been open to the process and believed that despite the challenging financial situation the company faces, they would protect the chorus as an integral part of what WNO describe as the “musical and artistic backbone of Welsh National Opera”.

In recent weeks, however, opaque proposals for changes to members terms and conditions have been tabled which would “fundamentally undermine” the job security of the ensemble.


WNO management are looking to reduce the current full-time contracts of our members to 45 weeks with an estimated cut in base salary of at least 15% a year.

In addition, they are seeking to reduce and rebalance the size of the chorus with a process which, the union says, can only lead to the “real threat” of compulsory redundancy.

WNO says it’s facing ongoing financial difficulties caused by substantial cuts to funding from both Arts Council England and Arts Council of Wales.

These retrograde decisions have already seen a reduction in output with touring weeks lost in Liverpool, Llandudno, and Bristol.

Equity says touring is the “lifeblood” of the company and reducing it will “seriously undermine” the stated mission of the WNO to bring opera to as wide an audience as possible.

They are asking Equity members, and the general public, to write to their politicians in both the Senedd and Westminster to ask them to stop the cuts to arts funding, and specifically to opera and make the case to #SaveOurWNO.

Equity’s Deputy and Chorus Committee at WNO (made up of Equity members working at WNO) said: “The proposal to diminish our full-time status seems reckless, albeit against the financial constraints imposed on the company, and will ultimately, we believe, have a damaging impact on the company’s ability to recruit and retain choristers going forward – which will ultimately damage the company’s ability to meet its vision of an uncompromising quest for artistic quality.

“The quality and excellence of WNO are an essential part of the cultural landscape and reputation of Wales and the UK around the world, and it was on the chorus’ strength from which WNO’s reputation was founded almost 80 years ago. The chorus was built from the communities of Wales and the many dedicated people for whom the survival of “their” company became a passion, a crusade and a fight against sometimes daunting odds. The chorus today still maintain that passion and fight, which is why we are asking you to #SaveOurWNO.”

Paul W Fleming, Equity General Secretary said: “There is a significant chasm between the views of the workforce and the view of funders as to who opera is for. We know that opera should be for everyone – as both an art form and a career choice. The arts councils in Wales and England need to step up to sort this funding crisis, whilst WNO go back to the drawing board on these unjust proposals. The funders and the bosses must know: Equity will keep all options open to fight an attack on our members’ pay and conditions.”

Simon Curtis, Equity’s National and Regional Official for Wales and South West England said: “Rather than the future of opera in Wales being one of low paid jobs and precarious shorter fixed-term contracts, we need there to be a recognition of the industry’s wider positive impacts.

“The performing arts and entertainment industry fosters local economic development, social inclusion, education and skills, tourism, physical and mental wellbeing, and strengthens the global reputation of our country. Strategic reviews of the company’s operations over many years, all of which have involved both Arts Councils, have always concluded that maintaining a full-time chorus and orchestra was central to sustaining WNO’s part of that ecosystem with their quality and contribution to the artistic landscape.”

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