Prince Charles urges grandparents to take children to the opera at seven

Victoria Ward
Prince Charles follows his grandmother, the Queen Mother, to their car after watching a matinee performance by the Bolshoi Theatre Ballet of Moscow at the Royal Opera House in October 1956 -  PA Archive

Most seven-year-olds are too obsessed with riding their bikes and playing with friends to contemplate fostering a love of opera.

But as Prince George approaches his next birthday, his grandfather, the Prince of Wales, has offered a clue as to where he might be taken for a celebratory treat once lockdown is over.

The heir to the throne has described the sheer joy he experienced when his grandmother, the Queen Mother, took him to see the Bolshoi Ballet perform at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden when he was seven.

The impact was so transformative that he believes it the perfect age for grandparents to introduce their grandchildren to the performing arts.

The Prince said he would “never forget” the Bolshoi’s performance of The Fountain of Bakhchisarai in 1956, describing the music as “unbelievably exciting”.

In an interview with Alan Titchmarsh for Classic FM, he said: “It was all Tatar, dancing and cracking of whips and leaping in the air and doing unbelievably energetic things, which only the Bolshoi can do.

“I was completely inspired by it…  which is why it’s so important I think for grandparents or other relations to take children at about the age of seven, to experience some form of the arts in performance. That’s what really inspires people, I think.”

The Prince went on to learn both the cello and trumpet at Gordonstoun and played the cello in the orchestra at Trinity College, Cambridge.

His passion for classical music meant he took a guiding role in choosing many of the pieces that featured in the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s 2011 wedding ceremony, an experience he thoroughly enjoyed.

“I love trying to organise some interesting pieces of music for certain occasions, particularly for weddings,” he said.

“Certainly, I know my eldest son was quite understanding and was perfectly happy for me to suggest a few pieces for their wedding. I hope that gave some people pleasure, but it’s rather fun having orchestras in for great occasions like that and why not suggest a few pieces occasionally?”

Prince George turns seven in July - The Duchess of Cambridge

The Prince has since found a willing companion in his daughter-in-law, taking the Duchess on several private visits to the Royal Opera House to watch ballet and opera productions.

He discussed his passion for music with Mr Titchmarsh for the first of two two-hour programmes, By Royal Appointment, to be broadcast on Classic FM this evening. 

Each piece of music was personally chosen by the Prince and performed by his patronages, including Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, choruses from the St Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach and Hubert Parry’s Bridal March of the Birds from The Birds of Aristophanes.

The Prince revealed that he had inadvertently introduced one of his protection officers to Wagner after playing his music on a CD in his car.

“The person I had with me at the time long ago had never heard Wagner before in his life,” he said.

“But because I played it on various occasions in the car, he grew, can you believe it, to love it so much that he then became a Wagner fan, having never heard it before and presumably having also thought, ‘Well, it’s not for me.’

“So it is familiarity, I think, which in this case doesn’t breed contempt. It breeds real devotion, I’ve found.”

The Prince, who is patron of the Royal Opera House, the Royal Ballet and the Philharmonic Orchestra, among many others, said the impact of coronavirus on the arts world was “a desperate thing.” 

He said the UK’s arts institutions were “utterly vital to this country” and played a “huge part” in culture and diplomacy.

“They are completely silent and unable to operate, unable to work,” he said.

“We have to find a way to make sure these marvellous people and organisations can survive through all this.

“It’s so important I think, to remember that the creative arts sector, is of enormous importance to this country’s economy, if nothing else, and plays a huge part in attracting people here and the quality and the standards that this country produces. 

“It’s absolutely crucial that they can come back twice as enthusiastic as before.”

Mr Titchmarsh said he had enjoyed discussing his mutual love of classical music with the Prince.

“It is typically thoughtful of him to choose to highlight the plight of his many musical patronages, alongside the difficulties that all musicians face, during an unprecedented period when enjoyment of live music has been curtailed,” he said.

A Royal Appointment, with His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, presented by Alan Titchmarsh, will be broadcast on Monday May 25 at 8pm on Classic FM. The second programme, presented solely by the Prince of Wales, will be broadcast on May 26 8pm.