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A stunning masterpiece

Opera East on tour with Lennox Berkeley's 'A Dinner Engagement' and Holst's 'The Wandering Scholar'


After A Dinner Engagement, the longer second half of this enterprising double bill, someone said to me, 'That's a good piece'. To which I replied, 'No it's not, it's a stunning masterpiece!' Lennox Berkeley's one-act comedy was written for the English Opera Group fifty years ago and much admired by Benjamin Britten. At last it has reached CD with the Berkeley Edition series on Chandos under Richard Hickox but this is a live performance taken on an East Anglian tour by Opera East, starting at Alderton, then Needham Market, but with two more performances to come [see bottom of next page].

In Paul Dehn's sparkling libretto the Earl and Countess of Dunmow are caught in a predicament typical of the 1950s when aristocratic families, before the days of marketing stately homes for tourists, were hard up. James McOran-Campbell is ideally cast as Lord Dunmow, pathetically and regularly recalling his grandeur as Envoy Extraordinary to the Monteblancan court twenty-five years earlier. Social distinctions are made with finesse and it is clear from the daily's catchy aria, pertly delivered by Olivia Ray, that the bridge teas she used to serve in Wimbledon are not what the Dunmows have in mind for the Grand Duchess and Prince Phillipe of Monteblanco coming to dinner that very evening.

There are French connections which fit in with Berkeley's personal and musical ancestry -- Lady Dunmow, with appropriate hauteur from Carola Darwin, reads the cookbook in French and her husband amusingly translates for the benefit of the daily. Prince Phillipe, who arrives for dinner with his mother the Grand Duchesss, is charmingly characterised by Peter van Hulle. After a variety of misunderstandings he sings a so-called shepherd's song in French. Once he realises that she is not a servant his fascination with Susan, the Dunmow's daughter, carries the day towards a happy ending. Susan started out by petulantly refusing to wear the dress her parents had bought specially for the occasion but later she shows an enticing spirit in argument. Lorina Gore commands both moods admirably.

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Copyright © 21 July 2004 Peter Dickinson, Aldeburgh UK


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