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Wagner: Rienzi (Edward Downes recording)

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The last of Wagner's early operas and his overall longest opera ever at 4 hours and 40 minutes. There's lots of pomp and circumstance here with choruses and ensembles, processions, and a 39 minute ballet. It was well worth the long time to listen to it all in my opinion. I actually quite like its over-the-top nature.

There are many great selections. The overture, the opening scene, the Act I final, the Act II opening, the ballet, the Act II final, Adriano's aria "Gerechter Gott", the march following "Gerechter Gott", the battle hymn, the women's chorus during the offstage battle, the last 15 or so minutes of Act III, the final to Act IV, Rienzi's prayer, and the ending scene among others. There's hardly a spot without a catchy melody. The final for Act I is some of my favorite ensemble/choral selections in any opera, and the final to Act IV is very somber and gripping, one of my favorite parts. There are just too many parts I like for me to mention here. One thing I don't get is why Wagner scored Adriano for soprano. I don't know the character's age, but I know he can't possibly be a ten-year old which is what a woman singing a male character gives me an impression of (Hänsel basically).

On this recording, there is an extra section to the overture. Here, the melody of Rienzi's prayer starts in the lower strings, building to all the strings, then to the full orchestra. In this audio clip from BBC, John Deathridge says that he thinks this was meant to imitate the way Beethoven builds the main melody in the ninth symphony.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p01ccmmw

I used the libretto from the Hollreiser recording and supplemented that with this: http://www.murashev.com/opera/Rienzi_libretto_German
That gave me basically all the libretto, though the online one does not have an English translation (had to deal with Google translate). I was surprisingly able to follow the ballet synopsis very well despite not knowing any cues for the first half. There is, however, a large section of Act III (about 13 minutes) that I can not find a libretto for. I have a general idea of what is going on, but I don't know the words. It seems that Wagner made large cuts here later and wrote some new text for the shortened score as some of the libretto I have doesn't seem to be in the long version at all.

As far as the performance goes, I can compare a bit as I have heard some (but not all) of the Hollreiser recording). I think Downes conducts better than Hollreiser. The singers here are all good. I'm really starting to like Mitchinson's singing especially. I think he was perfect for the role. He is able to deliver all the rhetoric very well while still being sensitive enough for more delicate parts like Rienzi's prayer.

So ... unpopular opinion: I think Rienzi should be in the main repertoire. Yes, I do like Wagner's later works much better though. They have more thought-provoking plots, better orchestration, and greater emotional expression. But an opera like this has a time and place for enjoyment as any other opera does. There's plenty enjoyable in it. I wish more people would at least give it a fair chance. If opera houses could find singers able to sing through it and the production was actually decent, Rienzi could be quite exciting to see.
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Updated Jul-26-2020 at 16:29 by adriesba

Categories
Classical Music , Opera

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  1. GavinAmes's Avatar
    Of course Wagner himself disliked this earlier work of his
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  2. GavinAmes's Avatar
    Of course Wagner himself disliked this earlier work
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  3. adriesba's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by GavinAmes
    Of course Wagner himself disliked this earlier work
    Yeah. I don't think it's all that bad though. I wonder if people are inclined to dislike it because of how great Wagner's later works were.
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  4. GavinAmes's Avatar
    I think a lot of people like it, especially the overture and the other aspects you mention. The opera stands up in its own right but its genre is not that that Wagner later developed... l love Rienzi though and thanks for your post
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  5. adriesba's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by GavinAmes
    I think a lot of people like it, especially the overture and the other aspects you mention. The opera stands up in its own right but its genre is not that that Wagner later developed... l love Rienzi though and thanks for your post
    Thanks for reading.

    I'm glad to know that others like this opera too!
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