"If music be the food of love," said the Duke of Illyria, wriggling to get comfortable on his chaise, "and I am assured that it is, then let's have far too much of it. See if we can't make the whole kit kaboodle blow up like goose liver, for it has caused me nothing but grief and sorrow. Ah, Olivia." He yawned and surveyed his stomach. "On a neighbouring topic, is there any of that good Strasbourg pâté left?"
"Alas no, your grace," the duke's batman Curio said in grave tones, materialising in the sunlit chamber with a folded napkin on his arm. "The toasted sandwich you requested in the early hours of this morning exhausted the pantry's supply." The duke patted his distinguished abdomen, restrained by a brocade waistcoat whose buttons had been replaced several times, most recently using fishing twine. "Probably for the best," he said glumly. "Well, music it is. What, aha, curiosities can you recommend?"
Curio's eyelids creased. "If it would please you to visit the Emirates Palace hotel this evening ..." he began. "What, the gold one over in Addis Ababa?" the duke interjected. "Bit of a hike, what?" "Abu Dhabi is served by a particularly reputable airline," the valet replied. "The journey would be quite painless." "Well, suppose it is," said the duke with a Socratic air. "What then?" His manservant made a suave bow.
"The hotel will host a Valentine's Gala, consisting of Spanish and Italian music performed by the Prague Symphony Orchestra," he said. "The programme has, I believe, been tailored to provide optimal stimulation to the romantic faculties." "Sounds like hot stuff," said the duke. "Enlarge, if you would be so kind." "Indeed, your grace. The Suite of Manuel de Falla and Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez are calculated to inflame ardour. By contrast The Four Seasons of Vivaldi inspire, with mechanical regularity, sentiments of melting tenderness. In addition proceedings are said to involve a guitar, of all instruments the most conducive to amorous passion." "Yes, yes, you don't need to tell me," said the duke with a shudder of recollection. "All the same, it seems a devil of a trip just for one show. Got to think of the old carbon boot mark, after all."
"It would appear that the programmers of the Abu Dhabi Classics festival have anticipated your concern," Curio said. "For the following evening at the same venue, they have scheduled a slightly more adventurous performance. The Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by the great American maestro Lorin Maazel, will play symphonic nature studies. The earliest is Beethoven's Sixth Symphony."
"The dan-dan-dan durn one?" said the Duke. "Very nearly. Beethoven's celebrated dan-dan-dan durn symphony is usually numbered as his fifth," Curio said. "The sixth is of a comparatively pastoral character. As such, it will make a more suitable foil for two masterworks in French Impressionism, Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé Suite No 2, and Debussy's La Mer." "La Mer!" sighed the duke. "Great hymn to motherhood. Well, that ought to persuade Olivia of the propriety of my intentions, my feeling for the sanctity of womankind and whatnot."
"On reflection, your grace," Curio said clearing his throat, "another choice of entertainment might be more acceptable to a lady of Countess Olivia's reforming sensibilities." "How so?" "She has been known to take a dim view of the 'etiolated dandies' of French music, so far removed from the rigour of proletarian struggle," Curio observed. "Recall the strictures she laid on the young biographer of Francis Poulenc who came to use her library." "She sent him off with a flea in his ear!" said the duke happily. "For an admirer of that particular composer, he might conceivably have relished the experience," said Curio with a twitch of his moustache. "Yet a solution to our current quandary presents itself." "Spill all," said the duke. "I have every faith in your powers."
Curio arranged his fingers into a cage. "In a gallery in the neighbouring emirate of Dubai that evening, there is to be a showing of the animated film Sita Sings the Blues," he said, "an allegorical reworking of the Hindu epic the Ramayana."
"The sort of thing that would go over well in Islington, I suppose," said the duke. "Is that it?" "Indeed no, my lord," said Curio. "The screening will be followed by a musical performance." "And?" "The performers are labourers from across Dubai's many building projects." The duke sat up with interest. "You don't say!" he said. "They are the winners of a musical tournament that was held among Dubai's labour camps," Curio reported. "The contest, which they call Camp ka Champ, has been compared to televised talent shows such as Pop Idol and The X Factor."
"Goodness me," said the duke. "This is superb. This ticks all the boxes. I do believe she'll bite." He flung himself from the couch, waistcoat buttons firing in all directions. "Get tickets! Book flights! Deliver my invitation to the countess!" he called, his voice receding into the depths of the family seat, accompanied by thumps and crashes of uncertain severity. "Your grace, I have already taken the liberty," said Curio, turning on his heel.