I written about the medical danger to health associated with Parsifal, now a British court has added Die Walküre to the list of hazardous Wagner operas. Violist Christopher Goldscheider convinced the court that playing in a cramped orchestra pit during a 2012 rehearsal of the opera subjected him to a noise level which resulted in “acoustic shock.”
“Seated in a “cramped pit” before 18 to 20 brass players, Goldscheider said he suffered “acoustic shock” after being exposed to noise levels that reached peaks of 137 dB — roughly the volume of a military jet taking off.”
“In an 83-page judgment, Justice Nicola Davies ruled that the Royal Opera House failed to protect the hearing of its musicians, in breach of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations law of 2005.” Mr Goldscheider asked for more than $1 million in damages. The court will assess these damages at a future date.
He’s lucky that he got a woman judge, as women have much sharper hearing than do men and are likely to be more sensitive to noise. With the increasing number of female conductors the frequency of Wagner performances may decrease or if they persist their amplitude likely will be reduced. The musical and medical implications of this shift in conductorial gender are profound. The Grove Dictionary of Music in all its iterations may require wholesale rewriting as will the medical definition of trauma.
Mr Goldschneider says his hearing and balance have been irreversibly damaged since that fateful 2012 rehearsal. “Despite his use of earplugs, the brass section playing directly behind him, in a confined area, at the same time at different frequencies and volumes, created a wall of sound which was completely different to anything he had previously experienced,” Justice Davies wrote in the judgment.
“Four trumpets, four trombones, nine French horns and one tuba created a “direct line of fire” which was “excruciatingly loud and painful,” the judge determined. “After the session, Goldscheider went home and started to experience pain in both ears along with increasing dizziness, according to the ruling.
“He tried to return to work on a number of occasions but found it impossible. “He would feel terribly nauseous, extremely unwell from the pain in his right ear, he felt dizzy and found it difficult to walk,” Davies said in the ruling. Goldscheider left the orchestra in 2014 and moved to the countryside to lessen his exposure to noise”
Readers of this site will not be surprised by the poor violist’s affliction secondary to a high dose of Wagner. Even lower doses if prolonged can result in similar injury. I too am a Wagner survivor having beaten Parsifal after many years of struggle. I’ve never had any trouble with Die Walküre, which at a distance is really quite listenable, but my exposure to it in the flesh has been limited to the upper reaches of the balcony at the old Met.
American jurists seem predisposed to pay careful attention to what their European counterparts rule. So don’t be surprised if tickets and adverts for Wagner’s operas in the US are forced to carry a health warning. The San Francisco Opera has a complete Ring Cycle coming up very soon. Given California’s minute concern for the well being of its citizens, sorry inhabitants, I expect a black box warning on all materials written and digital connected with this and future related events. The FDA should issue it.
Here is my modification of the FDA’s definition of a black box warning as applied to Wagner’s operas:
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves an opera for marketing after determining that the opera’s benefits of use outweigh the risks of the experience that the opera will offer. But even with a rigorous evaluation process, some safety problems surface only after an opera has been in the theater for many years and has been experienced by a broad population. So far only a few of Wagner’s operas are on the black box list, more may be added as more data are gathered. Several of Richard Strauss’s operas and tone poems are also under consideration for addition to this list.
So, don’t say you haven’t been warned. Again!