11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
For the benefit of those readers who may have found my reviews incomprehensible and unhelpful as described by a particular correspondent, this set is in superb digital sound (DDD), is wonderfully conducted and the singing is of such a high standard that it has left me both surprised and delighted. It also contains more and different music than the Hollereiser version, and is in my view well worth the extra cost for those who either already love or are seeking to explore Rienzi. I hope this is all now clear. Those of you share the confused correspondent's opinion need not read further, but for those, if any, curious to know why I value this set so highly, here are some further points.
This recording emanates from the a previous Wagner anniversary year, 1983, when in the Munich Festival of that year all the Wagner operas were performed either in concert or in the opera house. It was always intended that this performance should be recorded for release, but the all too frequent labyrinthine politics of recording contracts resulted in it not being released until 2002 when Orfeo obtained the rights.
There could scarcely be a finer tribute to the late Wolfgang Sawallisch than this recording, for not only did he conduct the performance, he prepared the performing version which is substantially different from that on the earlier excellent Hollereiser Dresden recording of the 1976 Shott Edition. The full 6 hours score has been lost to us, as the "Complete Edition" held in Dresden was destroyed in the war, so performing editions have been assembled from various sources and surviving orchestral parts etc. Sawallisch gives us a 4 hour version, with no scene totally omitted but much of the ballet music excised, repeats omitted and some of the various preludes shortened. What he does give us is the second overture-"The Fall of Rienzi"-which Wagner composed in 1847 for a proposed second evening when the work was to be spread over 2 nights!
In fact, no definitive edition of the work has ever existed as Wagner revised and deleted many times after its full length 1842 premiere.
For those unfamiliar with the work, there are all the building blocks of the later works clearly put down, but the overall style is that of Grand Opera nearer to Meyerbeer than anything else-indeed Hans von Bülow once described it as "Meyerbeer's Best Opera!" (I bet Wagner loved that-NOT!) It is extremely tuneful, and filled with often seemingly endless choruses, but in the right hands it is very enjoyable. There is more than one hint of things to come, particularly a theme strongly resembling music in Tannhauser.
Sawallisch took a bold decision in this production-he ignored Wagner's suggested casting of a soprano for the role of Adriano and cast a light baritone John Janssen instead. This pays dividends that you will have to hear to appreciate-he sings exquisitely, with no strain and a truly beautiful legato and is utterly convincing dramatically.However, the downside is that this creates an imbalance between male and female voices, so that when the contribution of the superb soprano is doubly welcome. Cheryl Studer was at the height of her powers, and she rivals Janowitz and Popp for the purity and steadiness of her singing. I was dazzled. The rest of the supporting cast is made up of names familiar to us for their excellence, and indeed they are excellent!
I have never heard Kollo as good, either before or since! His powerful steady singing has all the hallmarks of a great Heldentenor as he manages the tessitura effortlessly. He does not tire, and his Rienzi's prayer is beautiful and noble. I am so pleased to have discovered this recorded performance which ranks as truly great. The orchestra plays with rich, sonorous and refulgent tone, with magnificent brass and the various offstage fanfares superbly and atmospherically caught, as is the organ in Act One. There are no fluffs. The chorus is vast and sings wonderfully well-and tirelessly.
Sawallisch begins with the most noble and moving rendition of the opening theme, eclipsing even Tennstedt, and after the finest imagineable overture, he moves the drama along with his usual lithe and lively style, but always shaping and balancing well, and reining in when the music calls for it. Hollereiser is great-but Sawallisch is magnificent! In his hands, the work does not drag and belies its 4 hour duration.
The recording is superb, fully digital and very well balanced and clear, with a wide dynamic range- but there are a couple of moans. Applause at the ends of the acts one and two in particular is left in-it is extended and rapturous, but not banded separately which is a bit of a pain on repeated listening, and surprise, surprise there is no libretto, just a detailed synopsis.
When Mahler conducted a Vienna revival, he declared it "Wagner's Greatest Masterpiece"-well it's not obviously but it emerges in this performance a lot more enjoyable than its rather tarnished reputation would suggest. This is the most comprehensive version we have to date, and though it is expensive, it is the best version on disc. Stage noise only really occurs for a brief moment in Act One, and audience noise is all-but non existent. With regard to a libretto, I note that the EMI version is available very cheaply-although the editions don't match exactly, it might be a good way of at least getting the nearly full picture-and you'd have both excellent versions to compare.
So, in this review I am happy to be able to provide a glowing review to the work of artists I greatly admire, and to the music of the composer who means most to me. My only regret is that I did not buy this set 11 years ago!
Hopefully this is all now clear and can be understood-I like it because it's really good. 5 Stars. DSC.