Orchestra pits should be designated 'hearing protection zones' in the same way as building sites, court rules as ROH loses appeal against viola player

Anita Singh
Christopher Goldscheider was forced to end his career after sustaining a hearing inury  - BBC

Orchestra pits could be designated ‘hearing protection zones’ in the same way as building sites after the Royal Opera House lost its appeal in the case of a viola player who suffered ‘acoustic shock’ during a rehearsal.

Christopher Goldscheider was forced to end his career after sustaining the injury while rehearsing for a performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

The Royal Opera House contested a court judgment last year which found the company had breached noise control regulations. But yesterday the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling and said that the company had failed to protect Mr Goldscheider from risk.

Sir Brian Leveson, sitting with Lord Justice Bean and Lord Justice McCombe, said the orchestra pit should be designated a Heavy Protection Zone. Signs to that effect should be put up around the zone stating that ear protection should be worn.

The regulations also state that employers must ensure that exposure to noise is kept to the lowest practical level, meaning orchestras may have to play at lower volume.

However, the judges overturned one part of the earlier ruling which said ear plugs should be mandatory. The ROH provides ear plugs for every orchestra member but the Court of Appeal said it is not physically practicable for the company to ensure that everyone wear them.

Mr Goldscheider is now free to pursue his claim for lost earnings of £750,000. The 45-year-old from Biggleswade, Beds, joined the ROH viola section in 2002.

The injury occurred in September 2012 when he attended an eight-hour rehearsal and was seated immediately in front of the 20-strong brass section.

He was found afterwards to be suffering from acoustic shock, a relatively new diagnosis, and is now hypersensitive to noise. The court heard that his symptoms can be triggered by loud chatter in a restaurant or the vibrations of supermarket fridges. 

The ROH had argued that the original ruling could have “disturbing implications” for live music - particularly in listed buildings such as its Covent Garden base, where the size of the pit cannot easily be changed.

But Sir Brian said: “I simply do not accept that this cataclysmic scenario represents a proper understanding of the consequences of this decision.

“What the case does underline is the obligation placed on venues to comply with the requirements of the legislation.”