Metropolitan Opera labor dispute goes down to the wire

Met Opera performers face lockout unless cont... 04:15

Considered America's most prominent stage for the performing arts, the Metropolitan Opera is experiencing a tragedy all its own: all of the Met's performers, musicians and crew will be locked out if contract negotiations with their unions are not settled today. That means work stops, as would paychecks for nearly 2500 people, CBS News correspondent Jamie Wax reports.

"The difficult part for me is that, it's not that I want to cut their wages, I have to, for the Met to survive," said Peter Gelb, the Met Opera's general manager for the past eight years.

In that time, Gelb been celebrated for making the 135-year-old institution more accessible, from increasing the number of new productions to providing live simulcasts to more than 2,000 theaters throughout the U.S. and in 67 countries.

But a global expansion of the arts comes with a higher cost.

"When all cylinders are firing, and you have, you know, orchestra, chorus, stage crew, lavish scenery. It is the most complicated of art forms, and therefore it is the most expensive," Gelb said.

Since 2006, the operating budget of the met has grown from 200 million to 325 million; two thirds of it going to labor, which is at the heart of this negotiation and is contentiously being played out in the press.

Gelb insists this isn't about worker's pay, but perks, like the 16 weeks of paid vacation for the orchestra.

"The vacation argument that I've heard is not taking into consideration some of that is compensatory time off."

Jessica Phillips Rieske plays clarinet for the Met Opera, and says she is at the theater "every day right now."

Her focus now is on negotiating for fellow musicians.

"These are almost athletes, and they use their bodies day in and day out. And there's injuries and repetitive stress things, so it's like athletes where you have an off season and we need that time to recuperate," Rieske said.

After five months of drama, the harmony may be hard to recapture between Gelb and his team.

In a worst case scenario, there would be a work stoppage. Even then, Gelb knows the Met can bounce back with the same audience retention, and hopefully a stronger bond between him and the performers.

"I believe that I had a very good and strong working relationship with the people who worked here until I asked them for a pay cut," Gelb said. "So, I hope that when the dust settles we will all be able to resume working together, but in the end of the day, they don't have to love me to do their jobs."

The season is scheduled to open in September with "Marriage of Figaro." The last Metropolitan Opera lockout was 34 years ago and lasted 11 weeks.