Members of the extended British Royal Family joined the Queen (wearing the Burmese Ruby Tiara) and Duke of Edinburgh for a spectacular Gala Performance at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden on this day in 1977, launching the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Celebrations.
It was an evening of music fit for a queen. Drawing on the resources that have given it new international renown during the 25 year reign of Queen Elizabeth II, the Royal Opera staged a shimmering silver jubilee gala tonight. The Queen and members of her family watched from a specially constructed box as stars from a dozen countries sang operatic excerpts and performed five ballets.
Placido Domingo and Boris Christoff, Geraint Evans and Gwyneth Jones, Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn—the show went on for more than three hours. It was telecast live throughout Europe to an estimated 50 million viewers.
Tiaras Were Commonplace
Seldom in its 119‐year history has the famous house in Covent Garden looked so spendid, with garlands of flowers hung against the cream‐and‐gilt balconies, the Beefeaters lining the grand staircase with their pikes hold rigidly at attention and the seats filled by the rich and powerful in their most elegant attire.
Tiaras were commonplace. So were sashes and decorations and medals. The Queen herself wore a white crepe gown trimmed with silver and crystal, the blue sash of the Order of the Garter and ruby and diamond earrings, a necklace and a tiara. It was difficult to remember that Britain is a country in deep economic trouble.
When the Queen and her party appeared in their box, where 24 French gilt chairs from Buckingham Palace had been placed, the audience, drawn from the arts, politics, business and the diplomatic corps, rose to its feet.
The heavy curtain, embroidered with the Queen’s monogram, E II R, slowly parted to reveal 12 trumpeters from the Royal Military School of Music. A fanfare rang out in the hall, followed by the traditional playing of “God Save the Queen.”
Evocative of Past Glories
It was yet another of the moving moments, so evocative of the past glories of this island nation that have marked the summerlong celebration of the Queen’s coronation in 1952.
Appropriately enough, the program opened with a hymn of greeting from Hector Berlioz’s opera, “Les Troyens.” As the chorus sang “Hail to the Queen,” Josephine Veasey, as Queen Dido, walked down the aisle and on to the great stage with four trainbearers behind her.
With Colin Davis in the pit, there followed in quick succession arias from Rossini’s “Barhiera of Seville,” Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte,” Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale,” Verdi’s “Don Carlos” and Beethoven’s “Fidelio.” An American singer, James King, had flown from the United States only today as a lastminute substitute in the role of Florestan in “Fidelio.”
There were echoes of the past for the Queen in several of the ballet performances. One of them was “Gloriana,” a new work by Kenneth MacMillan celebrating Queen Elizabeth I Another was the appearance of the seemingly ageless Miss Fonteyn, who danced before the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, as long ago as 1946.
Tonight Miss Fonteyn danced with Mr. Nureyev in the world premiere of a new pas de deux by Sir Frederick Ashton, “Hamlet Prelude,” set to music by Liszt, with Miss Fonteyn as Ophelia.
The gala ended with Mr. Ashton’s swirling, kinetic “La Valse.” The house resounded with cheers, and then thousands of silver flakes tumbled from the ceiling, each one bearing a likeness of the Queen. The audience turned and applauded her as she applauded the artists.
Before leaving Covent Garden, Queen Elizabeth went to the stage to talk with those who had labored to entertain her — from Mr. Christoff, the great Bulgarian basso, to chorus girls and wig masters and stage carpenters.