To seek union with another, to tether oneself to a kindred spirit and in so doing to create much more than the sum of your parts; this is a fundamental human desire and a central theme of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 'Enoch Arden'.
Composer Richard Strauss set the work to music in 1897, resulting in a marriage between two of the century’s most renowned artists. It is, then, a fitting piece for two of Australia’s most accomplished performers, John Bell and Simon Tedeschi, to merge their expertly trained voices into a harmonious duet.
Tennyson, like Homer before him, took inspiration from the myth of Odysseus when constructing his nautical tale of a devoted husband who survives a decade’s exile on deserted island, only to return to find that his beloved wife Annie has moved on with his childhood friend. Homer’s 'The Odyssey', however, occupies a realm far removed from 'Enoch Arden'. John Bell rightly classed Tennyson’s piece as a melodrama. While the source material may perhaps lack originality and ladles on the tragedy a little too thickly, the raw and relatable pain of the protagonist, when spoken by Bell and accompanied by Tedeschi, was achingly real.
Simon Tedeschi, a man accustomed to appearing on stage resplendent in tuxedo and tails, compromised upon the fashion etiquette normally imposed upon classical pianists, appearing with Bell in a thick woollen jumper. This gave the pair an air of maritime voyaging, although they were perhaps the most neatly groomed salts in the history of shipping.
Bell held a book bound in Irish emerald as he recounted Enoch’s plight. While sometimes he strode about the stage and sometimes, if the mood suited, he wearily sank to a solitary wooden chair, Bell needed little more than his voice and Tedeschi’s soundtrack to convey every nuance of the text. The piano, for Tedeschi, is simply an extension of his body; there is an unimpeded flow of emotion from his heart, through his fingers and then into the air as sonic vibrations. Such was their ability to captivate that when the crashing waves of reality struck upon Enoch during the show’s climactic crescendo on Allegro agitato, you heaved from the tumult.
As the show closed, you were wrecked upon the shore. While fate was not kind to Enoch and Annie, John Bell and Simon Tedeschi together was marital bliss.