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With union deal, curtain falls on Met Opera's labor dispute

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The curtain will rise on Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro" next month at New York's Metropolitan Opera after a deal was reached early on Wednesday with the third of its three largest unions, averting a threatened lockout.

Among the provisions was the hiring of an independent analyst to monitor the Met's budget, according to The Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE.

"This wasn't easy," Matthew Loeb, the union's international president, said in a statement. "However, after a summer spent negotiating, in these final hours we were able to craft an agreement that allows the show to go on and is fair for our members."

The unions had balked at cuts being asked of them, saying management should also curtail spending on new productions.

The Met, which is the largest performing arts organization in the United States and one of the world's leading opera houses, said it now expected rehearsals for the new season, due to open Sept. 22, to continue without stoppages.

The Met reached deals with the unions representing the orchestra musicians and the chorus on Monday after bringing in a federal mediator as the talks turned increasingly fractious. The Met had threatened to lock out its employees - something it has not done in more than three decades - after the old contracts expired July 31.

A Met spokesman declined to discuss specific details of its agreements with its unions.

Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager, had said during the negotiations that the cost of the Met's musicians, who are among the highest paid in the country, and other employees was too high given what he described as the public's waning interest in opera.

The musicians' unions had in turn criticized Gelb, saying he was spending too much money on productions that failed to consistently bring in new audiences.

The Met's operating expenses increased to about $327 million last year, from about $222 million in 2006 when Gelb joined. The cost of its unionized employees remained about two-thirds of those expenses during that time.

The Met was negotiating on Wednesday with eight smaller unions representing its wig makers, scenic artists and camera operators, among other employees. Those unions are part of IATSE and the Met said it expected to reach an agreement with all of them.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bill Trott)

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