Prince Philip’s nights at the opera

Prince Philip’s nights at the opera


norman lebrecht

April 09, 2021

The late Prince Philip hated being dragged out to the opera, and worse still to the ballet.

Insiders at Covent Garden knew what he liked.

They placed his seat in the Royal Box slightly back from the Queen’s. On it, they would leave a green Penguin crime paperback, beneath the evening’s programme book. Prince Philip slipped the book inside the programme and spent the evening happily ensconced in a whodunnit.

My source for this anecdote, it can now be revealed, was the late Ewen Balfour, courtier and Covent Garden executive.


  • Rogerio says:

    At least he passed away comforted by the knowledge that Prince Harry is now safe.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    Maybe show a little more respect? There is a time and a place for anecdotes however light hearted. This is hardly the time..

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Au contraire, I think it’s very respectful, knowing what we do about Prince Philip, who never really hid his feelings. It’s part of a celebration of the man.

  • Music fan says:

    Better than those who browse their mobile phones during a concert.

  • Gustavo says:

    Pitiful to think that he found a book more interesting than a ballerina.

    Isn’t there any back-stage story to reveal?

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Not slobbering over a ballerina in front of your wife (who happens to be Head of State) is considered good manners in some circles.

  • Gary Freer says:

    Not sure he was a total philistine though -I believe he got on well with Benjamin Britten despite his pacifism and he asked BB to write the Jubilate in C for Royal St George’s Chapel in 1961.

    • Maria says:

      No, he was very cultured but just didn’t like opera or ballet. I know many professional musicians who don’t!

    • Gary Freer says:

      Actually I got my Canticles mixed up – the Prince Philip commission was a Te Deum in C. Radio 3 played it just now.

  • Siegfried says:

    This entry and comment is quite inappropriate at this time and is typical of the lack of judgement of this site

  • BigSir says:

    So he died not doing what he hated to do? I guess that is the beginning of your obit?

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Exactly. Prince Philip did not seem to be a sheep.

      Respect first, anecdotes later. Whatever will generate readership, I suppose, no matter the bad taste.

  • Ya what says:

    Ha! I’m sure he would’ve preferred watching rousing musicals instead….doubt he’d be reading a whodunnit during Jesus Christ Superstar or Hairspray….or indeed during a proper proper opera such as Phantom of the Opera…

  • Gustavo says:

    Luckily Charles is into classical music.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    There is a small museum at a small town in central Iowa that, among other things, has a display consisting of a rather formidable looking manure spreader, invented by a farmer who came from that town. It is a matter of civic pride that he came from there. The display includes a photograph of the man proudly showing his manure spreader to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip who, in a remarkable bit of Oscar-worthy method acting, are doing their best to look intensely interested in the man and his spreader.

    What an odd occupation royalty has become, now that it no longer includes ravishing wenches and ordering summary beheadings.

    I have to think that the day to day life of British royalty is fairly unimaginable to those of us who are not, well, British royalty. They are well compensated to do these things to be sure so I ask for no pity for them, but few of us can know what it is like to have the duty to do so many things or attend so many concerts and events that we very badly and very urgently wish not to do. (I suppose parents whose children put on shows or compete in something come the closest to knowing what that duty is like, but they at least have the small compensation of personal pride.)

    If opera and ballet do not interest us, we do not attend, or if the performance is bad we can walk out when we wish without consequence. To have to attend it not due to its merits but purely out of the definition of your role in life?

    • Greg Bottini says:

      “ravishing wenches and ordering summary beheadings”…. nice turn of phrase, David!

    • V.Lind says:

      It’s called duty. Something his grandson and Attila the Hen fail utterly to comprehend.

      He had his faults, like all of us, but he never flagged in the duty he accepted. He may have passed that on to some of his younger family — there are certainly signs of it in the Duke of Cambridge (and his wife), and the Prince of Wales has shown a good deal of it, as have his brother and sister-in-law, the Wessexes (and future Edinburghs, if previous Royal reports are to be believed).

      RIP to a man who understood public service.

    • David says:

      Given his known enthusiasm and advocacy for engineering he was probably genuinely interested

  • PB says:

    Quite a regal line-up – Rostropovich, with Te Kanawa and Gheorghiu flanking Prince Philip

  • Hugh Kerr says:

    As a regular at Covent Garden over 50 years the only royal I ever saw interested was Diana !

  • Edgar Self says:

    The late lamented Prince Philip was not alone. A previous royal,– it might have been Edward VII,– was asked his favourite opera. He named one. Why that one? “Because it is the shortest I know.”

    “Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

  • MusicBear88 says:

    So? Better than him falling asleep ten minutes into the first act and snoring or else talking with people in the box and spoiling their evening as well. I know several people who read at concerts and I’m not insulted in the least when I’m playing.

  • Alexander Platt says:

    Hey — he showed up, he did his part. Rest in Peace, Prince Philip, job well done.

  • Dave says:

    He must have had very good eye-sight to be able to read a small print Penguin in semi-darkness.

  • Maria says:

    A terribly sad day in Britain and the Commonwealth, and an enormous loss to the Queen at 95 next week, both of whom have always been there in a lot of our lifetimes whrrn politicians come and go. Now a Covid funeral as well with only 30 allowed – but then Prince Philip always said he didn’t want a fuss. May be rest in peace…

  • Luca says:

    Prigs United is only line deploring a nice little anecdote which does no harm or disrespect to anyone.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    One of them looks like the Duke of Kent.

  • sam says:

    “My source for this anecdote, it can now be revealed, was the late…”

    Since when can a source be revealed just because he’s dead?

    A good journalist never reveals his sources.