by Carl Llewellyn
On Thursday 27 July 2017, Elisabeth Parry passed away peacefully at her home in Wanborough, Surrey. She was 96 years old.
Mhari Elisabeth Forbes Parry was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on 9 September 1921, the great-granddaughter of Dr Joseph Parry. Educated privately at Eversley School, she passed the Oxford Board School Certificate with six credits in 1937, as well as the Associated Board Advanced Grade Piano and Intermediate Grade Singing. Elisabeth was offered a place at Oxford to study French and German in 1939, but refused this on the outbreak of war to join the Red Cross as an Ambulance driver.
She continued to study singing privately in London with Mark Raphael and the World famous tenor Dino Borgioli. She became a soloist with the Red Cross Staff Band and the Royal Army Medical Corps between 1940-1945, and toured extensively with them in Britain and the Middle East. Broadcasting frequently at home and abroad, she became a ‘Forces Sweetheart’ in 1944. She also gave many recitals for the Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts, later the Arts Council, and sang in many concerts and oratorios.
Following the end of the war, she set up and ran the Wigmore Hall Lunch Hour Concerts in London from 1947-1949, and in 1947 joined the English Opera Group, making her operatic debut at Glyndebourne as Lucia in Benjamin Britten’s ‘Rape of Lucretia’. Awarded an Italian Government Scholarship to study at the Accadamia Chigiana in Siena with Giorgio Favaretto in 1951, she continued to study there and in Rome. She gave two recitals in Genoa and broadcast from France, Switzerland, and Belgium.
She went on to start the Opera Players, together with Phyllis Thorold, in 1950, and sang in hundreds of performances with them, and was Managing Director of the Company (now the London Opera Players) until 2001.
Elisabeth Parry, being one of the principal trustees of Parry Trust Fund, presented the residue of the Parry Trust capital into the capable hands of the Welsh National Opera Company. In February 2009 the WNO’s new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro was funded partially by money from the Parry Trust, and enabled a rising baritone, David Soar, to make his debut as a principal in the role of Figaro. An annual bursary in the name of the Parry family was finally set up in 2010 to help gifted young singers.
As well as her musical activities Elisabeth took up climbing and colour photography in 1960, and gave illustrated travel talks all over the British Isles. Elisabeth was a Member of the Alpine Club, Association of British Members of the Swiss Alpine Club and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. She has translated a Rossini Opera, which has been broadcast and televised, and contributed articles to ‘She’, ‘Sphere’ and ‘Tatler’ magazines, as well as a number of mountaineering publications.
In 2011 she published her memoirs in a book entitled ‘Thirty Men and a Girl’.
Elisabeth’s association with Merthyr Tydfil began after Cyfarthfa High School won the Prince of Wales Trust Award in 1977. Preparations were made between the Merthyr Tydfil Council and the Prince of Wales Trust to mark the occasion by officially opening No 4 Chapel Row, Georgetown as the Dr Joseph Parry Cottage museum. The event took place on Friday 22 September 1978 when the Cottage was opened in the presence of the Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil, Mrs Mary John, and special guest Elisabeth Parry. Dr Joseph Parry’s grand-daughter Barbara Parry was originally invited to open the cottage but was unable to attend, so Elisabeth was invited in her place. The Dowlais Male choir was in attendance and sang Joseph Parry’s most famous composition, “Myfanwy”.
On 28 July 2002, to mark the centenary of the death of Dr Joseph Parry, an open air concert was arranged at Cyfarthfa Park. The guest soloists were Timothy Richards (Tenor), Rebecca Evans (Soprano), and Jason Howard (Baritone); accompanied by two male voice choirs, Dowlais and Pendyrus, and the National Chamber Orchestra of Wales, under the baton of Alwyn Humphreys MBE, conductor of Morriston Orpheus Choir. Again Elisabeth Parry, accompanied by her niece Rosemary Skipper, was invited to be a special guest at her great grandfather’s commemorative concert, and was later invited to the Mayor’s parlour by the Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil, Alan Davies.
Elisabeth Parry is last family link with Dr Joseph Parry, and it’s good to know she was proud of her family’s association with Merthyr’s musical heritage. Elisabeth kept up her ties with Merthyr to the end of her life, through the friendship that was forged between her and Mansell & Dwynwen Richards, and Carl Llewellyn.
If you would like to read more, Merthyr Historian Volume 16 is dedicated to articles about Joseph Parry and his family.
Elisabeth Parry 1921-2017