Two concert-goers who complained they couldn’t see the star performer from their seats have won a $220 refund after taking their case to the Disputes Tribunal.

Consumer member Graham and his partner booked tickets to see soprano Renee Fleming perform with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) last September, travelling to Wellington from Motueka for the event. But they couldn’t see Ms Fleming from their seats, only catching glimpses of her gown.

Graham said their view of the singer was almost completely obscured by the conductor and his podium. A regular concert-goer, Graham said he wouldn’t have bought the tickets if he’d known he wouldn’t be able to see Ms Fleming perform.

The NZSO apologised to Graham and offered him two premium tickets to another concert of his choice. However, he declined as he'd paid to see Ms Fleming. As the orchestra was unlikely to perform in the couple's home town, taking up the offer would also incur travel and accommodation costs.

In its evidence to the tribunal, the NZSO said restrictions were not placed on where the singer stood to deliver their performance and Ms Fleming had wanted the conductor in front of her. It noted the symphony orchestra also performed at the concert and there were 87 musicians on stage, as well as Ms Fleming, for the couple to enjoy.

However, the tribunal referee accepted Graham’s evidence that, for all practical purposes, the couple’s view was entirely obscured. The referee acknowledged the NZSO sold a “musical experience” but said part of a live performance was seeing as well as hearing. “In this case, Ms Fleming was promoted as a solo artist of some quality … the reasonable consumer, having purchased a ticket to see and hear Ms Fleming perform with the orchestra, can reasonably expect s/he will be able to see Ms Fleming at least for part, if not all of her performance.”

The referee also noted there was no warning from the NZSO or its ticketing agent that views of the singer would be obscured from certain seats.

Awarding the couple a refund, the referee took into account they had travelled to Wellington to see and hear Ms Fleming perform. “Although they were able to hear her sing, their experience was considerably less than they were entitled to expect because they could not see her,” the referee said.