Paris Opera perks: Bosses rebuked over €100k taxi bill

France's state auditors have rebuked heads of the Paris Opera Ballet for their taxi bills and for providing star choreographer Benjamin Millepied with a car and chauffeur.

Paris Opera perks: Bosses rebuked over €100k taxi bill
Photo: AFP

They criticised around 10 directors who had worked up taxi bills of nearly €100,000 between them in 2013 and 2014, and also took aim at the “quite high level” of spending on business lunches.

Millepied — husband of Hollywood actress Natalie Portman — spectacularly quit the bastion of classical ballet in February after his plans to radically modernise its repertoire ran into the sand.

His arrival a little over a year earlier had been greeted with fanfare, with his supporters arguing that his stardust would revolutionise the world-renowned institution.

But the Cour des Comptes said in a report published Thursday that it could not see how a car and chauffeur for Millepied “could be justified” given no other manager enjoyed the same privilege.

The perk has since been abolished, and the Opera Ballet insisted Friday that its taxi bill for management and guest artists had been reduced by nearly a third since.

“The cost of work lunches also dropped by 10 percent last year,” it added in a statement.

Auditors recognised that the company had “taken measures recently to bring spending in line with its financial restraints”.

But it still called for an increase in the number of its productions which it insisted would help put the Opera Ballet on an even keel.

Insiders had criticised Millepied — who came from a modern dance background — for his programming which they said left many of the ballet's 154 classical dancers twiddling their toes.

“Too many new productions, notably lyric ones, do not have another run (40 percent) or only a single subsequent performance (26 percent),” the report said.

“Given the high cost of productions… the Opera cannot allow this to continue and must better manage its productions over time.”

Nevertheless the auditors praised the institution — which employs 1,700 staff — for managing to “make up for the drop in state subsidy with a dynamic development of its own resources”.
But progress was still needed to “balance its finances better with the number of shows it produces”, the report added, saying efforts should be concentrated on its wage bill, which makes up 70 percent of its budget.
It's not the first time Paris Opera staff have been rebuked over spending.
In October last year The Local reported how a union rep working at the Paris Opera House has racked up a €52,000 phone bill after using his cellphone while on holiday to organise a strike.
And unexpectedly large taxi bills also made headlines in France last year, when Agnès Saal, the head of France's National Audiovisual Institute, resigned after she built up €40,000 worth of taxi bills in just ten months.

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Paris Opera reopens doors after weeks of strikes

The Paris Opera reopened on Saturday night after weeks of strike action against the French government's pension reforms that have cost the arts organisation millions of euros in ticketing losses.

Paris Opera reopens doors after weeks of strikes
A publicity photo for Tales of Hoffmann. Photo: The Paris Opera
Dancers and musicians have been striking alongside public sector workers to oppose the government's plan to scrap more than 40 separate pension schemes and replace them with a single points-based system.
More than 70 shows have been cancelled since December at a loss of nearly 15 million euros ($16.5 million)  — greater than the state's annual contribution to the Opera pension fund.
But on Saturday night, its Bastille venue opened its doors for the Tales of Hoffman.
“To preserve the economic integrity of the Opera, we have made the decision to go ahead with the performance this evening, but we remain mobilised for the withdrawal of this bill,” said a union representative at the start of the performance, in a statement recorded by a spectator and posted on Twitter.
It is unclear whether other planned performances will now go ahead.
The special retirement plan for the Paris Opera, which allows dancers to bow out at age 42, was introduced in 1698 by king Louis XIV — making it among the oldest in France.
The retirement age was set by taking into account the physical arduousness of the job, the high injury risk, and the assumption that most dancers cannot continue performing at their best beyond a certain age.
The French state covers half of the Paris Opera's pension fund, about 14 million euros per year.
The cancellation of several top ballet, opera, and theatre shows in Paris has disappointed tourists and locals who need to book long in advance for the pricey seats.
Dancers have staged outdoor performances in Paris in a show of support for the public sector strikes, which have triggered weeks of transport chaos