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Icelandic Opera
Photo: Íslenska óperan / The Icelandic Opera / Facebook.

Singers Criticise Management of Iceland’s Only Opera Company

The Professional Association of Classical Singers in Iceland (Klassís) has issued a declaration of no confidence in Icelandic Opera’s board and director Steinunn Birna Ragnarsdóttir, RÚV reports. In a statement, Klassís criticises the opera’s management in recent years, accusing it of undermining solidarity among singers and suggesting soloists who seek their rights are denied work at the company as a result. The statement comes on the heels of a ruling by the Reykjavík District Court in the company’s favour.

Soprano Þóra Einarsdóttir sued the Icelandic Opera last year, claiming the company underpaid her and several other singers for their work in its 2019 Marriage of Figaro production. Several of the production’s soloists complained about an excessive workload and turned to the Icelandic Musicians Union (FÍH) for support. The union’s chairman Gunnar Hrafnsson says the singers’ combined wage demands were around ISK 4 million ($31,000/€26,000).

Court Acquits Opera Company

Last Friday, the Reykjavík District Court acquitted the Icelandic Opera in the case, though it also waived Þóra’s legal costs. Þóra declined to discuss the ruling in detail, but stated it raised many questions. No decision has been made on whether the ruling will be appealed.

The case centered on clarifying whether the Icelandic Opera had an obligation to pay singers according to union rates. The company argued that it did not, as the singers were hired as contract workers. FÍH claimed the Opera Company never officially terminated the permanent contracts it had with singers prior to the Marriage of Figaro production and must therefore pay them according to union rates.

Singers’ Salaries Have Fallen

Klassís asserts that singers’ salaries have fallen in real terms over the past several years and points to the Icelandic Opera’s management and policy as the cause. The group’s statement also accused the company’s board of deliberately barring eligible singers from taking a seat on the board, “for example by changing its bylaws in a closed meeting.”

The Icelandic Opera is Iceland’s only professional opera company. Iceland’s government has, however, appointed a working group to research the founding of a national opera company. In its statement, Klassís called the move a “turning point” stating that with the founding of a national opera company: “Singers hope that management practices such as those that Icelandic opera singers have had to accept on the part of the Icelandic Opera in recent years will thus be eradicated and professionalism resumed and respected.”

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