Basically, the definition of melodrama relates to a work, or part of one, in which the text is recited to music. Although some operas have moments of melodrama – Fidelio or The Woman without a Shadow, for example – various composers have dedicated entire works to this musical practice.

In 1896/97, Strauss composed the melodrama Enoch Arden for narrator and piano to the words of a text by Tennyson. In his musical production, the work is situated chronologically between the symphonic poems Thus Spake Zarathustra from 1896, and Don Quixote from 1897, and, like these, it may already be considered a work of great maturity for a 33-year-old composer, who still had a long and creative career ahead of him. With Enoch Arden, Strauss enjoyed a resounding success at that time, even greater than the praise he received for his symphonic poems, having undertaken countless tours with the actor and theatre director, Ernst von Possart, to whom the work was dedicated.

Enoch Arden is one of the longest existing melodramas and also one of the best constructed. The theme relates to Ulysses and Robinson Crusoe, but the melancholy of the mariner who loses his family and then finds it once again, newly formed and already thinking that he was dead, is totally romantic and finds its confirmation in the musical genius of Strauss. The piano sets the tone, so to speak, for all kinds of things contained in the text, becoming an indispensable accomplice in its reading and interpretation. Each character is identified by his or her own musical leitmotif and the intertwining of the various themes, treated with the romantic modernity (I deliberately employ this clash of concepts here) that was typical of the composer, ended up paving the way for many later scenic works. It truly is a masterpiece.

An interesting problem arises in making an obvious distinction between the spoken word and the sung word, namely that, in the first case, the composer only deals with clarifying the meaning of the text according to his personal reading, which is heard in the instrumental part. In other words, he does not compose by taking into direct account the sound of the language, as invariably happens in the case of sung texts. This gives the actor and the pianist an added responsibility, a veplateplateiplantaz, in ensuring that the music which illustrates the text provides a safe indication of the type of reading that is intended, while simultaneously enabling this to be done in the language of the country where it is performed, “almost” without causing any damage to the reading that is made by the composer.

It is therefore not surprising that Enoch Arden has been performed by a large number of famous reciters (both actors and singers), such as Claude Rains, Bruno Ganz or Jon Vickers and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who interpreted it in the original English and in the German translation, and by pianists such as Glenn Gould, Emanuel Ax or Wolfram Rieger.

The work has never been performed in Portugal, and it falls to us, to me and Rita Blanco, to be given both the honour and delight to finally première the work in the Portuguese translation by Vítor Moura. As is frequently said, “About time, too!” – Nuno Vieira de Almeida.