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Cat. No. CHAN 10219 Price: £4.5 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 10219 - Berkeley, Lennox: A Dinner Engagement
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Available From: 14 June 2004
Sir Lennox Berkeley was a master of all aspects of his craft; but he is not usually thought of as a significant composer of operas. However, in the later, post-war phase of his career, he wrote one full-scale opera and three one-acters, and was working on another when illness forced him into retirement. A Dinner Engagement, the first of his operas to reach the stage, was commissioned by the English Opera Group and first performed at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1954. Berkeley’s old friend Benjamin Britten congratulated him on the work’s success: ‘There are most lovely things in the piece, my dear, which give one enormous pleasure…’

The libretto is by Paul Dehn, an extremely successful screenwriter who was also responsible for the text of William Walton’s The Bear. It centres on Lord and Lady Dunmow, aristocrats who have fallen on hard times in the straitened post-war years. Their dinner guests in their modest Chelsea home are the Grand Duchess of Monteblanco (to which, before the war, Lord Dunmow had been Envoy Extraordinary) and her son, Prince Philippe. Lord and Lady Dunmow hope that Prince Philippe will be attracted to their daughter, Susan. The interaction of these characters, and the interventions of the hired help, Mrs Kneebone, and the grocer’s errand boy, produce some nicely observed social comedy. The opera takes place in the Dunmows’ kitchen, but the text provides all the variety a composer could wish for, with fast-moving prose dialogue alternating with short arias in verse, and numerous ensembles, the lifeblood of comic opera.
Reviews

'This excellent first recording is based on performances at last year's Cheltenham Festival, when Hickox conducted the City of London Sinfonia, with a cast led by Anne Collins, Claire Rutter and Yvonne Kenny.'
Financial Times Magazine

'The opera is a total delight, and so is the recording.'
American Record Guide

Berkeleys transparent, French-inflected score is ideally suited to domestic listening, and the most sprightly singers - Roderick Williams, Yvonne Kenny and Claire Rutter - lead the way, rollicking and rolling through the social comedy.
The Times

'As a comedy it may be dated, but on disc Berkeley's score works well, with excellent singing all round''
The Guardian

'Altogether an admirable diversion!'
International Record Review

This is a scintillating comedy adroitly characterised and full of memorable tunes. Its finesse comes from Mozart, and the libretto works hand-in-glove with the music and admirably demonstrated by this superb recording.'
Gramophone Critic's Choice

This performance of Sir Lennox Berkeley’s one-act opera written for Aldeburgh in 1954 was a success during the composer’s centenary year in 2003 and it is good to have it preserved.
The Sunday Telegraph

'Anne Collins as the Duchess is magnificent; Claire Rutter as Susan is enchaning; Robin leggate makes a mellifluously charming Prince. But this is an all-star cast and the Mozartian ensembles are scintillating. Once again enormous credit to Richard Hickox whose total understanding of the Berkeley's music gives him unrivalled authority in this long-delayed debut. Well recorded, too'
Gramophone

 

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