Fat lady is given 72 hours grace before opera house’s threatened closure.

The Metropolitan Opera management has postponed the threatened lockout of its workers that was scheduled for midnight NY time. The reprieve came after the official mediator requested an additional 72-hour period to allow labour contract negotiations between the Met and its unions to continue.

In the first sign of progress in the protracted and increasingly acrimonious dispute, three of the 15 unions involved have reached agreements with management. Ushers, ticketing staff, cleaning staff and building engineers, whose contracts were due to expire at midnight, appear to have secured deals.

Crucially, however, the unions representing the singers, orchestral musicians and stagehands are yet to settle. The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and Local 802, the two most vocal unions representing the Met’s chorus and orchestra, only agreed to a mediator being brought in on condition the Met management withdrew its threat to impose a lockout. That step, they maintain, was a premeditated tactic of embattled General Manager Peter Gelb.

“It’s too early for us to know if we will be able to extend the contract deadline, but the Met is willing to compromise, and if the other groups are as well, we’re confident that we can reach new agreements,” said the management in a brief statement. “We want to work together with union representatives, and do everything we can to achieve new contracts, which is why we’ve agreed to an extension,” said Gelb.

The dispute, which has now been going on for several months, hinges on Gelb’s proposed cuts of up to 17%, impacting artist’s wages and a raft of benefits such as holiday and sick pay. These measures, he claims, are essential due to declining audience numbers for what he has pessimistically suggested is a dying artform. The orchestra, on the other hand, have accused Gelb of managerial incompetence and wanton spending on unpopular productions. They have proposed a range of alternative cost cutting measures but so far the management has refused to compromise.

The mediator, Allison Beck, has now met with the unions representing the orchestra, chorus, soloists, stage directors and dancers. Meanwhile, AGMA has told its singers to report to work in the morning.

Pressure has been mounting on both sides to reach an agreement after NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Controller Scott Stringer weighed into the debate. “Tourism spending in New York City is an important driver of our economy, with more than $36 billion spent in 2012,” said Stringer. “The Met’s performers, stagehands, technicians, and assistants deserve a fair outcome, as do the scores of restaurants, shops and other vendors that rely on the Opera for their livelihoods. I urge the Met to extend negotiations and not lock-out its union workers.”

The dispute, says the Met represents “one of the biggest financial challenges in its 131 year history”. With the new season due to open with James Levine conducting The Marriage of Figaro on September 22, there’s still time to find a solution – but only just.