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Paris Opera musicians serenade public in pensions protest

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PARIS (Reuters) - Striking musicians and singers of the Paris Opera staged an open-air concert on Saturday in front of the city’s historic opera house in protest against a pension reform that seeks to end their special retirement scheme.

Orchestra members and singers performed well-known airs by Verdi and Bizet in a half-hour event outside the Opera Garnier building, ending with a rendition of the Marseillaise.

The musicians were cheered on by colleagues including ballerinas who last month performed scenes from Swan Lake at the same spot in a similar protest over the proposed pensions overhaul.

The event drew applause from passers-by on a sunny winter’s afternoon in the French capital, where performances by the Paris Opera have been canceled for the past month due to the strike by artists who want to preserve centuries-old retirement provisions.

“We’re so unhappy about not being able to give our shows that we’re performing in a different way, in the street, to show the public that we’re not on holiday,” Fabien Wallerand, a tuba player in the Paris Opera’s orchestra, told Reuters.

Under an arrangement dating back to 1698 and the reign of Louis XIV, Paris Opera dancers can retire on a full pension at the age of 42, singers at 57 and musicians at 60.

President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to merge France’s various pension schemes into a single system has triggered more than a month of strikes, particularly in public transport.

However, concessions by the government, notably a delay to a move to raise the age at which workers can claim a full pension from 62 to 64, have contributed to a waning in strikes.

Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Ardee Napolitano, writing by Gus Trompiz, editing by Christina Fincher