After four months of heated negotiations that included charges of unfair labor practices, the Arizona Opera and its orchestra musicians have agreed on a five-year contract.

Members of the Arizona Opera Orchestra Musicians A.F.M. Local 586 ratified the deal after rehearsals Tuesday for this weekend's run of "Carmen."

The pact, the first long-term contract between the orchestra and the opera since the orchestra formed in the 2000-01 season, calls for cuts in travel expenses and pay. It runs through June 30, 2015.

"We are extremely grateful to the orchestra. The negotiations were hard and tough, but at no time was there any great contention," said Arizona Opera General Director Scott Altman.

Nathan Mitchell, the head of the union's negotiating committee, said the musicians "accepted some substantial cuts, but hopefully it'll be done in a way that's manageable and will help the organization get back on its feet."

The contract calls for:

• A 4 percent cut in the musicians' $101.92-per-service fee for the first two years, and an additional 2 percent cut in year three.

• Cuts in the daily per diems, to a flat-rate of $15 a day instead of per-meal reimbursements.

• A 40 percent cut in travel expenses, to $48 round trip from Tucson to Phoenix from the current $80.

• In year four, the pay rate goes up 4 percent over the 2009-10 rate. By the time the contract expires in 2015, the musicians will get another 4 percent pay increase and have all of their travel expenses restored.

"By the end of this agreement, they are restored plus. It's actually a very generous agreement," Altman said.

Mitchell said the talks dragged out four months because management early on was hesitant to make any wage concessions temporary.

The musicians were the last of the opera's unions to ratify new contracts as the opera tries to dig out of its $2.5 million-plus debt load.

Other cost-saving moves have included pulling its daily operations out of Tucson and consolidating rehearsals and administration in Phoenix. Altman said that move alone could save the opera as much as $250,000 a year.

If you go

Arizona Opera stages Bizet's "Carmen" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Tucson Music Hall. For tickets, visit Read more about it in Friday's The Arts section in the Star.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or at 573-4642.