Royal Opera House loses appeal over viola player’s hearing


The Royal Opera House has lost its appeal over the life-changing hearing damage caused to a viola player at a rehearsal of Wagner’s Die Walkure. The ramifications are significant for the music industry and we expect this could be just the start of a new focus on hearing protection for working musicians, music venues and maybe even music shops?

If you are a retailer who offers teaching in store, or holds live performance events, or even if you often have customers trying out instruments in a public space, this case could be of relevance to you. Consider your duty of care to both your customers and your staff, for example, do you offer hearing protection if people want it? 

We will of course keep you updated on any further developments or advice.

Here is our original story: ‘A precedent is set?’ and below is the latest update from BBC News 

The Court of Appeal ruled unanimously that the ROH failed to take reasonable steps to protect Christopher Goldscheider during the 2012 rehearsal.

It also failed to act on dangerous noise levels until after Mr Goldscheider’s injury, the court ruled.

The ROH said it was “disappointed” by aspects of the court’s ruling.

Mr Goldscheider won a landmark High Court case last year, which was challenged by the ROH.

In that case, Mr Goldscheider sued the London opera house, claiming damages for acoustic shock – a condition with symptoms including tinnitus, hyperacusis and dizziness – after being exposed to noise levels exceeding 130 decibels.

It was the first time acoustic shock had been recognised as a condition which could be compensated by a court.

In its appeal, the ROH claimed the artistic value of the music produced by the orchestra meant that some hearing damage to its players was inevitable and justifiable – but that was rejected by the court.

On 1 September 2012, Mr Goldscheider was seated directly in front of the brass section of the orchestra for a rehearsal of Wagner’s thunderous opera Die Walkure in the famous orchestra pit of the opera house, in Covent Garden.

The bell of a trumpet was immediately behind his right ear during the rehearsal and noise levels reached 132 decibels – roughly equivalent to that of a jet engine.

His hearing was irreversibly damaged. Mr Goldscheider, from Bedfordshire, now has to wear ear defenders to carry out everyday household tasks such as preparing food.

Speaking after Wednesday’s Court of Appeal decision, he said: “I am grateful to the court for acknowledging that more should have been done to protect me and other musicians from the risk of permanent and life changing hearing problems.

“We all want to find a way to participate and share in the experience of live music in a safe and accessible way and I hope that the guidance which the Court of Appeal has given in my case will help others. I hope that the Royal Opera House will now support me to get on with rebuilding my life.”