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N.Y. Met Opera extends contracts one week for financial review

(Reuters) - New York's Metropolitan Opera has agreed to extend union contracts for a week to allow for an independent study of its finances, further postponing a threatened lockout at the nation's largest performing arts organization, the Met said on Saturday.

The Met made the announcement along with two of its largest unions, representing the chorus and orchestra, in collaboration with the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

The confidential financial study began on Saturday, and as a result, discussions with other unions are temporarily on hold, the Met said in a statement.

Eugene Keilin, a co-founder of KPS Capital Partners, will conduct the analysis, according to the opera and the unions.

"We are encouraged with this step forward that we believe will address the issues in contention and will ultimately lead to an agreement that is fair to everyone," said James Odom, president of the American Guild of Musical Artists, in a statement.

The opera company had said late Thursday it would extend negotiations with its labor unions for 72 hours. A federal mediator joined negotiations on Thursday with the orchestra and chorus unions with the aim of averting a work stoppage.

A lockout threatens to derail the new opera season due to open in September with Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro."

The dispute is the most acrimonious at the Met in decades, giving rise to the unusual spectacle of the Met's own musicians criticizing new productions mounted by Met General Manager Peter Gelb as not very good, except for the singing and playing.

Gelb has said he needs to reduce the cost of the company's orchestra members, chorus and stagehands by about 17 percent in order for the opera house to be sustainable.

About two-thirds of the Met's operating expenses of $327 million in the last financial year went toward pay and benefits for unionized employees, the organization said.

Some of the unions have said the Met's proposals would cut deeper into employee pay than the Met has said.

The orchestra's union, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, says it made counterproposals that would save the Met nearly $38 million a year, including more efficient use of overtime.

The Met has reached new contract agreements with three of the 15 labor unions involved. Those unions represent building engineers, ticket takers and call center employees, among other administrative staff.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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