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Royal Opera House loses appeal against viola player who suffered ‘acoustic shock’

The exterior of the Royal Opera House. Photo: Luke Hayes
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The Royal Opera House has lost an appeal against a viola player who was awarded damages in 2018 for hearing loss he suffered during rehearsals for Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

Christopher Goldscheider is a former viola player in the orchestra at Covent Garden, who said he was no longer able to work as a musician due to “acoustic shock” he suffered during a weekend rehearsal in 2012.

Goldscheider said the noise he was exposed to was unacceptable, and a judge ruled in his favour in March.

However in October the ROH, which is being represented by law firm BLM, was granted permission to take the case to the Court of Appeal.

Royal Opera House legal case: the shocking story that could change orchestra pits forever

The Court of Appeal has now upheld Goldscheider’s case, although on narrower grounds.

Specifically, it overturned the High Court finding that Control of Noise at Work Regulations meant employers were required to enforce the wearing of hearing protection for all players at all times during the course of a rehearsal or performance over a certain volume.

The ROH as well as the Association of British Orchestras, UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre had argued that this would impose impossible restrictions on almost any live music situation.

Brian Leveson, sitting alongside Lord Justice Bean and Lord Justice McCombe, rejected this, and said: “For my part, I simply do not accept that this cataclysmic scenario represents a proper understanding of the consequences of this decision.”

He said the case underlined “the obligation placed on venues to comply with the requirements of the legislation”.

Leveson added: “The national and international reputation of the ROH is not and should not be affected by this judgement.”

ROH chief executive Alex Beard said he was pleased the court had “accepted the ROH’s case that it is not reasonably practicable for orchestral musicians to wear hearing protection at all times while performing and rehearsing”.

He added: “The original High Court ruling, which stipulated that hearing protection must be worn by orchestral musicians at all times, was widely acknowledged by the live-music and theatre industries as completely impractical with potentially devastating and far-reaching consequences for the entire sector, and we are pleased that this unworkable solution has been overturned.”

However, Beard said he was “disappointed by other aspects of the ruling and will work closely with our insurers and legal team to explore our next steps”.

“This is an unprecedented and unusually complex case for the live-music and theatre industries and we will continue to work with other cultural institutions to encourage and implement best practice across the sector,” he added.

Royal Opera House granted permission to appeal ruling over musician’s hearing loss

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