The Earl of Dunmow has fallen on hard times, and has plans to improve his fiscal situation through a liaison between his daughter, Susan, and Prince Phillipe, the son of the Grand Duchess of Monteblanco. The Earl and his wife, the Countess of Dunmow, decide to host the Duchess and her son for a dinner party, but nothing seems to be going to plan. A cooking disaster threatens to ruin the evening, and incredible embarrassment ensues when the Duchess and her son arrive via the large back door and straight into the kitchen!
Having never been in a kitchen in her life, the Duchess naturally admires the unconventional decor of the drawing room. She is rather shocked to find the house running on a reduced staff, in fact, no staff at all except a weekly visit from Mrs Kneebone. She agrees to a tour of the small garden, to leave her son and Susan to meet. Susan has refused to put on the expensive evening-gown her parents have bought, particularly while she is helping out in the kitchen. Prince Phillip mistakes her for the hired help at first, but soon takes a fancy to her, when he realises that her culinary skills are a great match for his appetite. They bond over a jar of pickled walnuts, and he declares his love in the form of a French song. Their betrothal is secured by a generous offer from the Duchess to forget about a dowry.
Lennox Berkeley’s A Dinner Engagement is a popular ensemble piece, taking only seven performers and a small orchestra. In the style of a classic British sitcom, it suits many audiences and settings. Its music interweaves different melodies throughout, to culminate in a wonderful septet which combines three separate arias.