Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Veteran Met mezzo-soprano Wendy White may sue the company

White with Rene Pape just weeks before the fall. (AP)
Mezzo-soprano Wendy White, beloved Metropolitan Opera veteran, feels that the company has turn it's back on her.

As you'll remember, White fell from a platform eight feet above the Met stage during a performance of Gounod’s Faust nearly a year ago.

At the time, Daniel Wakin reported for The NY Times:
Members of the audience said that during Act III, as Ms. White, in the role of Marthe, was walking onto a platform from a staircase behind René Pape, who was playing Méphistophélès, a clattering sound was heard and she disappeared from view. “Curtain! Curtain!” yelled Mr. Pape, and the curtain fell. A hinge on a piece of plywood that connected the platform to the stairway broke, causing the plywood to give way and leading to the fall, a Met spokesman said later.
White has been quite a beloved fixture at the Met for decades - singing supporting roles to dozens upon dozens of stars over the years. Early on, she showed promise when she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1978 at the age of 25.  White went on to make her debut at the company in 1989 as Flora in Verdi’s La Traviata and has since appeared some 500 times in 40 of the Met's productions.

Clearly, Wendy White is the product of a different time at the Met ... A time when marvelous talent was fostered, a loyalty to singers who worked hard was common and longevity was normal.

As of today, White - who is in now her late 50s - still has not fully not recovered from her injuries and feels abandoned by the company she once considered family, her lawyer told the The NY Times yesterday:
Ms. White broke no bones in the fall but suffered nerve and muscle damage that has prevented her from singing professionally, said the lawyer, Martin W. Edelman, a specialist in personal injury cases. She is undergoing physical therapy, he said, but progress is slow.

And now the Met has refused to honor her contract, Mr. Edelman charged.

“The Met, instead of treating her, let’s say, as a member of the family, has treated her in an adversarial way,” he said. “They cut her off from paying her the rest of the contract and have basically turned their back on her.”
Now, it's not a surprise that the operatic world has a very "freelance" mentality. That is to say: if you don't sing, you don't get paid. This is not out of the ordinary - why do you think opera singers are so crazy-obsessed with staying healthy?

This is not about "freelance". And, it's not about her contract. Certainly, this is a decency issue.  For the Met to offer no assistance after a singer, who has sung some 500 performances for them, was put out of commission in such a drastic and painful way ... on their watch, mind you ... is just plain terrible.

For it's part, the Met declined to respond to the comments made by White's lawyer. The Met did, however, confirm on Monday that Wendy White would be replaced for her scheduled performances as Marthe in Gounod’s Faust and Marcellina in The Marriage of Figaro this season because of health problems. A spokesman for the Met told The NY Times:
"We deeply regret that Wendy White will not be returning to the Met roster this season. However, since this is a legal matter, we’re not prepared to comment further."
It is for reasons such as this that Unions, which have come under fire by many Republican Governors as of late, play such an important role in the lives of many hard working Americans. The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), which represents singers not only at the Met but also around the country, has sought to recover pay for the remainder of Ms. White’s contract, which runs into next year. Although, the guild’s national executive director, Alan S. Gordon, declined to comment.

That's not the final act of this production, though. When The NY Times asked if Wendy White was going to sue to Met, her attorney said, "It's pretty inevitable..."

Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a common case a long island accident lawyer would handle (considering its proximity to broadway). Too bad it had to go that far when the theater company could've just helped out more.

Ellen Greene said...

That is bad press for the troupe. I suppose it also reflected on their subsequent sales, yes? Her experience seems to be a major loss for the productions that came afterward.

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