My wife and I are long-standing devotees of the live streaming in local cinemas from the Royal Opera House. We have seen and hugely enjoyed wonderful ballets and operas. What unites both mediums is of course magnificent music.
But what about the musicians themselves? How do they respond? They are all lovers of music, but sitting so close to the action can bring painful consequences.
There has been a recent High Court case brought by one of the ROH viola players, Chris Goldscheider, who claimed damages for acoustic shock. This is a condition which has symptoms including tinnitus, dizziness, and hyperacusis. His evidence to the Court was that on 1 September 2012 he was sitting in front of the brass section of the orchestra for a rehearsal of Wagner’s opera The Valkyrie. This is a full-on opera where the brass section and the drums can really let rip. During that rehearsal it appears noise levels exceeded 130 decibels. This was roughly the equivalent of a jet engine, and its effect was to cause irreversible damage to his hearing. Such was the damage that he subsequently had to wear ear defenders to carry out everyday household tasks including preparing meals.
The ROH defended the case arguing that “acoustic shock” does not exist. If it did exist then Chris did not have it. Instead they argues that he had developed Meniere’s Disease, which is a natural hearing condition, and he got this at exactly the same time as the 130 decibel noise exploded behind him.
The Judge was not impressed with that defence, and she opined that it was “stretching the concept of coincidence too far”. ROH said everything possible had been done to reduce the risk of damage to the orchestra’s hearing, but if you played for so long in an orchestra then some damage was an inevitability.
Again the Judge was unimpressed, and she ruled that “the reliance upon artistic value implies that statutory health and safety requirements must cede to the needs and wishes of the artistic output of the Opera company, its managers and conductors. Such a stance is unacceptable. Musicians are entitled to the protection of the law, as is any other worker.”
The ROH is now considering its options. One of these is to appeal the judgment. They maintain the view that the Noise Regulations should not be applied to an artistic institution as it would to a factory. Their representative said that 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”.
For his part, Chris Goldscheider told the Court that he spent 18 months following the injury trying to recover and get back to playing, but unfortunately could not do so. As a consequence he had to leave the ROH in July 2014 as a result of those injuries. His damages will be assessed at a later date.
Bude & Holsworthy