The Royal Opera House Gets Sued By Its Own Viola Player — for Hearing Damage

No, this isn’t an Onion article.  A judge just found the Royal Opera House responsible for hearing damage — of its own player.

Viola player Chris Goldscheider has successfully sued the Royal Opera House (ROH) in a case that takes frivolity to new heights.  Goldscheider accused the venue of being liable for the hearing damage he sustained during a rehearsal six years ago.

Goldscheider cited the responsibility of ROH under UK Noise Regulations.  He claimed to have suffered from “acoustic shock” while rehearsing Wagner’s ‘Die Walkure’ in 2012.  This after sound levels of the performance reached 130 decibels.

Classical geeks and players alike understand that Wagner’s ‘Die Walkure’ is a superbly loud piece.  After all, it’s Wagner.  Let’s just say it isn’t a Haydn minuet — it’s LOUD!

Oh, there’s one more person who usually knows that Wagner gets loud: the viola player.  All of which makes the rest of this article even more painful to write.

“Acoustic shock” is technically defined as hearing damage suffered because of sudden excessive noise.

In the case of Goldscheider, the litigious violist said he suffered severe hearing damage during a rehearsal.  This left him hearing impaired.

Now, the striken-down player is unable to hear sound normally without experiencing pain. Goldscheider now wears ear protection to carry out normal household tasks.

Did those earplugs also come with a neck brace to complete the look? 

For eighteen months, Goldscheider tried unsuccessfully to manage the situation.  Due to his injuries, Goldscheider claims he was forced to leave the Royal Opera House in 2014.

Six years later, the British high court ruled in his favor.

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The implications of the ruling against the Royal Opera House are wretched.

This is the first time that a court has accepted ‘acoustic shock’ as a valid reason in a case.  Accordingly, the ruling can have huge implications for the classical music industry, as well as the entire live music industry.

In its defense, ROH lawyers claimed that Goldscheider developed Meniere’s disease at the same time that he was involved in the rehearsal.  Nicola Davis, High Court Judge Justice, rejected this claim saying:

“I regard the defendant’s contention that Meniere’s disease developed at the rehearsal as stretching the concept of coincidence too far.”

The judge also disagreed with the Royal House’s claim that a certain amount of hearing loss was justifiable in the pursuit of great art.  “Such a stance is unacceptable,” she said.  “Musicians are entitled to the protection of the law, as is any other worker.”

Maybe, but the only difference here is that musicians understand that music gets loud.  Because, they play the music itself.

Either way, Goldscheider walks away with a cushy payout for a tidy little legal scam.  And the opera and classical worlds are appropriately shocked at the finding.

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So does this mean that the opera world is going to tone things down, after cranking it up for centuries?  Of course, this only invites litigation from forlorn audience members who somehow thought opera was a whispered affair.  Or, are fishing for lawsuits.

An excerpt from the Royal Opera House statement reads:

“We have been at the forefront of industry-wide attempts to protect musicians from the dangers of exposure to significant levels of performance sound, in collaboration with our staff, the Musicians’ Union, acoustic engineers and the Health & Safety Executive.”

Guess the fat lady will still be singing — but this time, with the appropriate disclaimers.

 


 

4 Responses

  1. David Smolover

    Of course he didn’t sue the conductor who called for fffff.
    Or the brass section, Or that obnoxious Piccolo player, Or his parents for making him practice all those hours.

    • Paul Anderson

      A modern symphony orchestra can create some pretty spectacular sound pressure levels. Why is this such a surprise to this viola player? Surely this is an occupational hazard, and one against which measures can be taken. Buy a set of professional earplugs for a start. These have a liner frequency response, being designed and marketed to solve problems such as we are discussing here.

      Personally I think this is attention seeking by the individual concerned but we have to accept the court’s decision. Quite how suing his own employer is going to impact upon the future working relationship is another matter. Perhaps he’ll sue them for discrimination in the future should ‘problems’ arise.

  2. Paul Anderson

    A modern symphony orchestra can create some pretty spectacular sound pressure levels. Why is this such a surprise to this viola player? Surely this is an occupational hazard, and one against which measures can be taken. Buy a set of professional earplugs for a start. These have a liner frequency response, being designed and marketed to solve problems such as we are discussing here.

    Personally I think this is attention seeking by the individual concerned but we have to accept the court’s decision. Quite how suing his own employer is going to impact upon the future working relationship is another matter. Perhaps he’ll sue them for discrimination in the future should ‘problems’ arise.

  3. Natalie

    Please read the court documents from the decline of the appeal, it tells a much more detailed look – this guy wore hearing protection the whole rehersal and the ROH even made changes because of the excessive noise levels once they found out about this guy’s hearing loss.

    It’s so easy to see this as another cusy legal scam but genuinely this guy has been completely disabled, hearing loss is such a sad state of reality to be in