SCOTTISH Opera’s chorus members were told last night that they were to lose their jobs, barely ten minutes before the curtain was due to go up on a production of La Bohème.
The 35-strong chorus had been given the half-hour call as usual at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre, said Lorne Boswell, of the actors’ union, Equity.
"Ten minutes before it was due to start, they were called in by the chorus manager and told face to face for the first time they were to be made redundant," he said. "They were then expected to turn around and perform."
The likelihood that the chorus would be the casualty of cut-backs has been reported in the press since January, Mr Boswell said. But he added: "It’s one thing to read about it in the newspapers, it’s another thing to be told by their line manager. We will be putting in a complaint to the company."
The audience was kept in the dark last night about the latest twist in the Scottish Opera saga, and chorus members are forbidden contractually from speaking to the press.
But the chorus staged a singing protest outside the theatre last night, both before and after the show, asking opera-goers to sign a petition supporting their case, as they have almost every night since cuts were announced.
One member of the chorus, who asked not to be identified, said: "We’ve learned that our biggest fears were accurate. People were stunned into silence.
"Somebody had to go and ask him to repeat the information later that evening because we didn’t take it in. We were preparing to get changed and go on stage. It threw everybody. This is the first time that our management had said this."
At the end of the show, the conductor, Richard Farnes, joined the company on stage wearing the now-familiar black and white T-shirt reading, "No Chorus, No Opera, No Way". He and the principal singers led a sustained round of applause for the chorus members.
At La Bohme’s last performance in Glasgow, the chorus was given a standing ovation and the audience stood to join them in singing Auld Lang Syne. The opera continues in Edinburgh for another week.
Mr Boswell has said that chorus members typically earn a modest salary of 22,000 after ten years’ service.
But their contracts do allow them to take on outside work if they can find it, such as weddings, corporate events or concerts.
Earlier yesterday, the employees of Scottish Opera had taken their protest against job cuts to the Scottish Parliament, as it emerged that their cause had gained a prominent recruit.
The Opera’s chief executive, Christopher Barron, has signed the union petition against the cuts that would see 88 jobs go in the company he runs.
More than 100 people from the company joined a protest outside the parliament’s current home on the Mound.
Earlier this month, the Scottish Executive announced that it was spending up to 7 million on a package that would pay off the Opera’s debts but entail it shedding nearly half its workforce and ceasing production for nearly a year.
In addition to the chorus, the Opera’s technical staff were singled out as likely candidates for redundancy.
Yesterday, members of the Opera’s 53-strong orchestra, who have been told their jobs will be retained, joined the protests.
The Conservatives’ culture spokesman, Jamie McGrigor, said he hoped the protesters’ singing pricked the consciences of ministers.
"One only had to listen to the superb demonstration of musical talent that attracted a large crowd on the Royal Mile to see the excellence that is being threatened," he said.
Mr Barron has kept mostly silent about the deal negotiated between the Opera’s board and the Executive, unlike the Opera’s music director, Sir Richard Armstrong.