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A pity there are not more recordings out there, but get this one
on 26 May 2008
If ever an opera deserves a wider currency it is Wagner's `Rienzi', his first masterpiece and his third opera. That is not to say that it has not enjoyed success; this five-act tale (written in the style of extravagant French Grand Opera) of political intrigue was, during his lifetime, one of his most successful creations, much to his own (misplaced) embarrassment. However, during the composition Wagner must have thrown himself in to its writing with gusto, so full of marches, processions and ballets is it that he lived up to his own analysis of the task at hand: to produce a work "with sumptuous extravagance".
The present recording of the 1843 one-evening version, but with revised ending composed for Berlin in 1847, dates from two recording periods (August and September 1974 and February and April 1976) and is the most readily available although Sawallisch on Orfeo (1983) may still be found after much searching. This is a shame as this outing of `Rienzi' has many flaws. It is an unwieldy piece (it is long) and demands singers that can carry the narrative. Singing Cola Rienzi is René Kollo (no stranger to Wagner - he sings Tristan for Carlos Kleiber on DG) who does very well, sounding sufficiently heroic but he is let down by Siv Wennberg as Irene, Rienzi's sister. She comes across as tired and the moment where she declares her loyalty to Rienzi in Act five sounds forced rather than natural and out of sisterly love. However, the final moment when all three perish (Adriano is the third, Rienzi's son) worked incredibly well, with plenty of fervour from the orchestra and conductor Heinrich Hollreiser.
Throughout the recording one is mindful that the players and conductor have produced a great recording of the music, which is full of character and often very rousing, where it is meant to be. The quality, too, is superb, and despite the reservations of some of the singing, this release is to be recommended for it is good value and one ought to get to know this opera more.