Opera Scotland

Dinner Engagement A Dinner Engagement

Music

Lennox Berkeley (born Oxford, 12 May 1903; died London, 26 December 1989).

Text

Paul Dehn (1912-1976).

Source

Original.

 

Premières

First performance: Aldeburgh (Jubilee Hall), 17 June 1954.

First performance in Scotland: Ledlanet, Kinross-shire, 23 September 1964.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

Sir Lennox Berkeley's musical influences were largely French, and he took a degree in the language from Oxford before following music as a career. From 1927 to 1933 he studied with Nadia Boulanger (on the recommendation of Ravel). He remained a close friend of Britten and Pears, and even collaborated on compositions with Britten and composed songs for Pears. He completed four operas, three short and one full-length. That was Nelson, premiered by Sadler's Wells in 1954. A Dinner Engagement was a light piece composed immediately afterwards (though it was in fact staged first, at that summer's Aldeburgh Festival). It was followed by Ruth (1956), based on the biblical story, and Castaway (1967), which uses the Ulysses legend. A Dinner Engagement is a witty little one-act comedy "meant only to divert" as the composer put it, which was composed for the same size of small orchestra as Britten's chamber works.  It has often been revived, particularly by student performers.

 

Characters

The Earl  of Dunmow (baritone)

The Countess of Dunmow, his wife (soprano)

Susan, their daughter (soprano)

Mrs Kneebone, their help (mezzo-soprano)

HRH The Grand Duchess of Monteblanco (mezzo-soprano)

HRH Prince Philippe, her son (tenor)

An Errand Boy (tenor)

 

Plot Summary

The opera takes place in the kitchen at the London home of Lord and Lady Dunmow. In post-war austerity Britain they are no longer wealthy, but before the war his lordship did diplomatic service in the state of Monteblanco. They have therefore invited the visiting Grand Duchess and her son to dinner, in the probably forlorn hope that the son may be attracted to their daughter, Susan, who is in imminent danger of being left on the shelf.

The grocer's boy is pressing for payment, the Earl is not at home in the kitchen, and the woman hired for the evening comes to the front door, mistaking it for the tradesman's entrance. Even worse, Susan actually wants to help in the kitchen rather than spend her time on cosmetic repairs. With the meal in the oven, the Dunmows remove aprons and add jewellery, while Susan returns, having overdone the make-up. Just as the food in the oven starts to burn, the Monteblancos make their entrance straight into the kitchen, having also assumed that the front door was for trade only.

The guests seem quite relaxed - the Duchess has never seen a kitchen before and is genuinely interested, and the burnt dinner doesn't matter - she has brought some luxury items with her. When she and the Dunmows go out to inspect the garden, Susan and Philippe are left to discover a mutual interest in food and cooking. They also find that the burning smell in the oven was from Melba toast the Earl had mislaid earlier, and that the dinner is fine. On her return indoors, the Duchess declares that Susan should be the perfect wife for Philippe, introducing new blood to the dynasty. All ends happily.

The Cast

Countess of Dunmow
 
Earl of Dunmow
 
Errand Boy
 
HRH Prince Philippe
 the Duchess's son
HRH The Grand Duchess of Monteblanco
 
Mrs Kneebone
 a hired help
Susan
 the Dunmows' daughter

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