George Lascelles, British earl wrote acclaimed opera reference
NEW YORK - George Lascelles, the seventh Earl of Harewood, a member of the British royal family who was an internationally recognized writer on opera, died July 11 at Harewood House, his family’s home near Leeds. He was 88.
A family spokesman announced the death, The Press Association, the British news service, reported.
A first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, Lord Harewood was best known to US readers as the longtime editor of “Kobbe’s Complete Opera Book.’’ A volume nearly 3 inches thick, it has become the de facto standard reference work on the subject, thanks to its detailed plot descriptions, production histories, and musical analyses of hundreds of operas.
Through his writings, and his administration of major opera companies and music festivals, Lord Harewood was considered significant in broadening the reach of opera in Britain.
From 1972 to 1985, he was managing director of what became the English National Opera. Based in London and known for its populist, often adventurous English-language productions, the company has been an upstart rival to the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, of which Lord Harewood was previously a casting manager.
As the British newspaper The Guardian commented in its obituary, Lord Harewood “was unusual for a member of the royal family in deserving a substantial obituary on account of what he did rather than who he was.’’
The eldest grandchild of King George V, George Henry Hubert Lascelles was born in London. His mother, Princess Mary - formally Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary Windsor, Princess Royal of the United Kingdom - was the king’s only daughter. His father, Viscount Lascelles, became the sixth Earl of Harewood in 1929.
At his birth, baby George was sixth in line to the British throne. As a boy, George - he was Viscount Lascelles from 1929 to 1947 - spent much time in Buckingham Palace.
The young viscount scored his first literary success as a teenager. With his younger brother, Gerald, he published Harewood News, a typewritten periodical that, The New York Times reported in 1939, had “a ready sale among their fellow Eton schoolboys and among the workers on the estate of their father’’ because of “the excellence of its horse-racing information.’’
A captain in the Grenadier Guards in World War II, Viscount Lascelles, seriously wounded, was captured in Italy. He was held in Colditz Castle, an infamous prisoner of war camp in Germany.
There the viscount, who had loved music since boyhood, managed to obtain a copy of “Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians.’’
He read it straight through as far as the letter S - as far as T, in some accounts - before the war ended.
In 1947, after his father’s death, Viscount Lascelles became the seventh Earl of Harewood.
The next year he earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Cambridge University.
In 1949 in a ceremony covered by the world news media, Lord Harewood married Maria Donata Nanetta Paulina Gustava Erwina Wilhelmine Stein. A concert pianist, Stein, known as Marion, was the daughter of an Austrian Jewish family that had fled the country after the Anschluss.
Kobbe’s entered Lord Harewood’s life in the early 1950s. First published in 1919 as “The Complete Opera Book,’’ it was the posthumous work of Gustav Kobbe, the music critic of The New York Herald. Kobbe had been struck by a seaplane and killed off Long Island the year before.
The first edition on which Lord Harewood worked appeared in 1954. He oversaw subsequent editions through the 1990s and was credited with mitigating Kobbe’s turgid prose and eccentric arrangement of entries.
In 1967, after the queen granted him permission, Lord Harewood became “the first royal in modern times to obtain a divorce and then remarry,’’ as The Guardian wrote in his obituary.
Later that year he married Patricia Elizabeth Tuckwell, with whom he had fathered a son in 1964.
Perhaps the greatest testament to Lord Harewood’s democratic leanings came from his cousin the queen. Some years ago, The Guardian reported, she was moved to remark: “Funny thing about George. You know, in most respects he’s perfectly normal.’’