The Earl of Harewood has died aged 88

Martin Cullingford12th Jul 2011
Lord Harewood - a life devoted to the arts (photo: Harewood House Trust)Lord Harewood - a life devoted to the arts (photo: Harewood House Trust)

Lord Harewood was managing director of Sadler’s Wells Opera and the company that grew out of it, English National Opera – London’s English-language opera house – from 1972 until 1985. He was also editor of Kobbé’s Complete Opera Book, for many the model of clarity and informed opinion when it comes to the operatic repertoire, and also the founding editor of the magazine, Opera.

The grandson of King George V, Lord Harewood, born George Lascelles, made a break with aristocratic tradition and devoted his life to the arts. After Eton he joined the Grenadier Gaurds and saw action in Algeria and Italy where, in 1944, he was wounded and captured by the Germans. He was imprisoned in Colditz where he spent the remainder of the war. After the war he went up to Cambridge and while still an undergraduate Benjamin Britten approached him to become president of the Aldeburgh Festival: a career in the musical world beckoned.

In 1950 he founded Opera, and as the result of a critical review of Kobbé’s Guide to the Opera, he was asked to assume editorship of the book, a role he maintained for 30 years. During the 1950s he worked as chief executive David Webster’s right-hand man at Covent Garden. He was instrumental in many of Covent Garden’s great artistic triumphs during the 1950s, including Maria Callas’s performances (he and Callas would become great friends) and the 1958 Don Carlos. He was also involved in the commissioning and premiere of Britten’s Gloriana for the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 and its hostile reception by the critics and the Establishment upset him greatly. He remained close to Britten until they fell out when Harewood sought to divorce his wife, the pianist Marion Stein.

Harewood was artistic director of the Leeds Festival (1958-64), the Edinburgh Festival (1961-65) and the Adelaide Festival in 1988. But it was his work in opera for which is best remembered. In 1972, shortly after the Sadler’s Wells Opera took up residence in the West End, at the Coliseum on St Martin’s Lane, its managing director Stephen Arlen died suddenly and Harewood was asked to take his place. This he did and created a company that has provided serious competition to the Royal Opera ever since with its innovative programming and staging. During Harewood’s tenure, it staged the Ring cycle (recorded and now available in Chandos’s Opera in English series), many of the Janácek operas under the company’s music director from 1970 to 1977, Charles Mackerras, and the Mafia-style Rigoletto in Jonathan Miller’s much-loved production. He appointed Mark Elder as the company's music director in 1980 ushering in an extraordinary period of artistic excellence, invariably alongside the stage director David Pountney.

He stood down from ENO in order to spend more time running Harewood House in the West Riding of Yorkshire, but he remained involved with the company as its chairman until 1995. From 1985, he served as chairman of the British Board of Film Classification and his signature adorned the pre-screening film certificate for many years.

Outside of music, Lord Harewood’s many interests included art (he amassed a magnificent collection of paintings and sculpture), football (he was president of the English Football Association and of Leeds Football Club), dance and poetry.

Lord Harewood never claimed to be anything other than a discerning listener. The title of his autobiography, Tongs and Bones (1981), drew its title from Bottom’s line in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream “I have a reasonably good ear in music. Let’s have the tongs and bones.”

Born February 7, 1923; died July 11, 2011

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