A viola player has won a landmark High Court case against the Royal Opera House, claiming damages for ‘acoustic shock’ after he was seated in front of the brass section during Wagner’s Ring Cycle. His claim for lost earnings, since he can no longer play in an orchestra, is £750,000.
The case could have a considerable knock-on effect for the music industry and music venues in particular. It arose because, as a string player, Christopher Goldscheider was seated in front of an 18-strong brass section in the orchestra pit, where noise levels reached more than 130 decibels, roughly the same as the noise of a jet engine close at hand. His hearing was permanently damaged.
The Royal Opera House was refused permission to appeal, but can still go direct to the Court of Appeal. They issued a statement, saying: “We do not believe that the Noise Regulations can be applied to an artistic institution in the same manner as in a factory, not least because in the case of the Royal Opera House, sound is not a by-product of an industrial process but is an essential part of the product itself.”
Music venues of all kinds, where musicians could be exposed to similar noise levels could be affected – Peter James, health and safety expert with Harrison Clark Rickerbys, said: “The ROH may pursue an appeal but the claim raises important questions on how the music industry and those who employ musicians should strike a balance between creating music (and producing often very loud sounds) and protecting those who are performing that music.
“The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 imposes duties on employers and employees, and more detailed assessments of venues, and arrangements for hearing protection, might have to be carried out. It could also lead to a redesign of orchestra pits, for instance.”