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on 10 September 2013
Let me say first of all that I have never seen Rienzi performed live or any other DVD version, so my impressions are cold, so to speak. The opera, along with Wagner's previous two, was later disowned by Wagner as being his apprentice works when he was learning the trade. It has never been performed at the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth although it was the most successful of Wagner's operas in his lifetime. It is very much in the style of Grand Opera, aiming at the Paris Opera audience of the time and is therefore in 5 acts with a ballet, as written. However, because the end result was very long, this production omits the ballet and a pantomime and has a few other cuts. The end result is still quite long (3 hours) but very successful, maintaining the dramatic flow. The style owes a lot to Meyerbeer and Italian opera of the period. However, it does foreshadow his later works, especially the Fliegende Hollander, Tannhauser and Lohengrin, to some extent.
Rienzi is challenging for the three main singers (Rienzi, Irene and Adriano), requiring a heldentenor who can maintain power on stage throughout almost the whole performance.
Although this is very different from the mature Wagner of the later music-dramas it is quite definitely unjustly neglected, perhaps because of Wagner's own opinions. It is stirring from start to finish, melodically strong and really better than quite a few operas which are in the standard repertoire.
At the time of composing, Wagner was 25 and very much under the influence of the socialist/anarchist ideas of Proudhon and Feuerbach. This production takes these ideas as its springboard and emphasises Rienzi's role as a man of the people, opposed to the aristocracy. Although the sets are mainly grey and minimalist, the production is excellent (including a horse on stage) and allows the singers to do their jobs while acting to a reasonable standard.
Conducted by Pinchas Steinberg, the overture is played with tremendous verve by the Orchestre National du Capitole, overlayed with video clips of popular uprisings and demonstrations from the last 50 years. Steinberg's conducting is one of the great strengths of the production. He is really on top of this music. Torsten Kerl has just the voice for Rienzi. It is hard to imagine better singing in this difficult role. Marika Schonberg is equally good as Irene and Daniela Sindram sompletes the team in the trouser role of Adriano. The smaller roles are also cast at strength.
The special features include interesting interviews with the pricipal singers, conductor and director.
Highly recommended to everyone.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 August 2013
Amidst the abundance of Ring cycles being wheeled out this year, the Wagner bicentenary has also provided a good opportunity to revisit and reconsider many of the composer's earliest works. If any of them is likely to be reevaluated as a misunderstood and neglected masterpiece, it's possibly Rienzi with the promise of that wonderful Overture that asserts itself on occasion like a leitmotif throughout the work. If it never quite manages to live up to what we expect of a Wagner opera though, there are nonetheless fascinating hints of the style that would develop in the composer's later music-dramas and this is something that is brought out very skillfully in this 2012 production from the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse.

The production here opens with some images during the Overture of the fall of the Berlin Wall as well as other popular uprisings around the world, but there are no other modern references to be found in this production, which settles thereafter for a more generalised non-specific period, but one that has echoes to Wagner's own time. The Overture is all about setting the tone, and this one succeeds in bringing it back closer to the sentiments and intentions of the original work. As fascinating as Philipp Stöltzl's Deutsche Oper production was in relating the work to its historical legacy (most notoriously as Hitler's favourite opera), this production takes it back to Wagner's left-wing leanings and the revolutionary activities on the streets of Dresden that would see him forced into exile for a significant part of his life. This is a Rienzi that is still concerned about the nature and the exercise of power, but Wagner's position as a revolutionary on the side of the ordinary citizen - most evident in the huge choruses - is more clearly drawn here.

If the musical treatment and the theatrical intent are quite different from Stöltzl's, this production is nonetheless still very much stylised in its own way. Closer to the 19th century than medieval Rome (or indeed the Third Reich), the panstick-whitened faces remind one of a futuristic silent movie like Metropolis. In its striving for an ideal society that rules with benevolence and with balance for the needs of its people, this might not be far off the mark in striking the right tone for Rienzi. There is nothing as visually striking as Metropolis in this minimally decorated production but that's not to say that the production doesn't hold attention. The costumes are appropriate, define the characters well and succeed in setting the ordinary people apart from the uniformly-dressed political factions (you can scarcely distinguish between the Orsini and the Colonna, which is perhaps the intention). The lighting is superb and the production works well enough to bring across what can be a fairly static opera largely comprised of solemn pronouncements and declarations.

The singing too commands attention. The vocal writing is less bel canto in Rienzi than in Wagner's previous work, the Bellini-influenced Das Liebesverbot, but the roles are no less demanding on the singers, pointing towards the style of expression and continual flow that is found in later Wagner works. All of the singers deal with the demands exceptionally well, if not always with a great sense of personality, but then the characterisation is somewhat limited in this work. Torsten Kerl has made the role of Cola di Rienzi something of his own and he brings out a more human side to the character here. Marika Schönberg is a good Irene, but doesn't make as much of an impression in the role as Camilla Nyberg did in the Deutsche Oper production. In the trouser role of Adriano, mezzo-soprano Daniela Sindram however probably gives the stand-out performance, with a deep, soaring and expressive delivery that helps considerably in bringing some much needed life to the work.

The BD is of the usual high standard and comes with almost an hour's worth of interviews with the production team and the singers. Torsten Kerl deals quite frankly with the thorny issues of Wagner's controversial position and with the work's legacy in the Nazi era, but there are also interesting thoughts on the value of the work itself and the difficulties of performing it from the conductor and director. The BD is full-HD, dual-layer BD50, region-free, with subtitles in English, French, German and Korean.
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Before someone reports me to Amazon, let me point out that "Grosser querschnitt" is German for "highlights" (literally "greater cross-section").

Wagner conceived Rienzi for the Paris Opera, with lots of choruses and ballet music, which the French insisted on.
The actual premiere was in Dresden in 1842.
Rienzi lasted about six hours.

Subsequent performances shortened it considerably.
The original score was lost in a World War II bombing raid.
A roughly two-and-a-half hour version was thought to be all that survived - until the 1970s when musicologists pieced together an additional two hours from surviving fragments.
This was the basis for the BBC's pioneering 4 hour, 40 minute broadcast in 1976, the single most important performance of the opera since 1842.

[hint: for ease of navigation, read the review though to the end, then come back and click on the links.]

There are two competing performances on Blu-Ray, both featuring Torsten Kerl in the title role:

2010: 2 hours, 36 minutes = Berlin Opera conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing: Wagner: Rienzi [Blu-ray]

2013: 2 hours, 56 minutes = Toulouse Théatre du Capitole conducted by Pinchas Steinberg: The Blu-Ray under review.

(actual timings are less due to curtain calls and production credits)

Rienzi was Wagner's most popular opera during his lifetime.
Adolf Hitler may have inadvertently killed Rienzi when word got out that it was his favorite opera.
This seems unfair:
After the war, his valet reported that Hitler's favorite movie was "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"
yet Snow White seems to have survived unscathed.

Though he lived in Italy in the Fourteenth Century, poor Rienzi has suffered for his supposed Nazi connection.
An irresistable temptation for trendy opera directors with a keen grasp of the obvious.
The 2010 Berlin performance is especially clueless.
Silly, really.

The 2013 Toulouse Théatre performance is more abstract in its staging, therefore
Less Silly.

- Toulouse has twenty minutes more music than Berlin.
- Toulouse has smarter staging than Berlin.
- Toulouse has a 55 minute documentary vs. 26 minutes in Berlin.
- Both Blu-Rays have the same tenor in the lead role.
- Both Blu-Rays have 5.1 surround sound and subtitles in all the usual languages.

If you need Rienzi on Blu-Ray, Toulouse Théatre du Capitole is my recommendation.

However, there is always a catch, and that's where Grosser querschnitt comes in.
Both Blu-Rays are heavily cut.

I wouldn't mind it if Opera Houses wanted to present abridged performances, if only ONE uncut Rienzi was available on CD or DVD/Blu-Ray.
CD recordings ranged from 1 hour, 58 minutes to 3 hours, 38 minutes.

The 4 hour, 40 minute BBC broadcast under Edward Downes, with John Mitchison as Rienzi, used to be available as a 4 CD set on the Italian label Ponto,
but unfortunately Ponto forgot to get the BBC's permission and the CDs have been withdrawn.

The Ponto version of the Downes/BBC Rienzi is available as a download (6 euros) on opera-club.net
Recommended as a stopgap.
And if the BBC ever decides on an official release, I hope they don't forget the libretto and translation
(now that I'm at it, I wouldn't sneeze at a new uncut recording conducted by Barenboim, Janowski or Thielemann).

For the time being, your best bet is Hollreiser/EMI, with Rene Kollo as Rienzi, the longest of available performances, at 3 hours, 38 minutes.

For the sorry recorded history of Rienzi, see my review of Rienzi - ("Wagner's Rienzi: Discography", dated May 5, 2014).
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on 6 May 2015
Wagner lovers unfamiliar with this early work will doubtless want to get a copy. Vocally excellent. Set boring and production consists of moving the chorus on and off stage. Scenes have been cut; Acts 1-3 work well but the plot gets somewhat confusing in Acts 4 and 5.
Glad to have finally aquired a copy but wouldn't rush to see it on stage. Wagner tended to disown it in later years - I can see why.
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on 26 June 2016
Seeing this was Wagner s first opera and not very often performed this was a very interesting production and I enjoyed it very much
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on 29 September 2013
I was very much interested in this opera as it takes it roots in Riga where Wagner was a Kapellmeister between 1837 and 39. The beautiful ouverture reminds of its melodies throughout the score. I still do not feel comfortable when a mezzo sings a male part (there are very few exceptions). A countertenor was a much better coice in "Ruslan and Ludmila" by Glinka in the Bolshoy production. The idea of marking the opposite parties even with their hairdo seemed very interesting.
However, Wagner for our small company of opera fans seems a bit too long, even in its 3 hour revived version.
I strongly recommend it to all Wagner lovers, especially the fascinating beginning of Act 4. And you cannot have enough of the ouverture.
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on 22 December 2013
At the time of writing there are only 2 DVD/blu-ray versions of Rienzi - this, and a 2010 performance from Berlin - both featuring Torsten Kerl as Rienzi. I'll admit to a soft spot for the Berlin version - and not just because I was in the audience the night they filmed it. The Berlin production makes very explicit the similarities between Rienzi's story and those of a number of 20th century popular-hero-turned-tyrants such as Hitler, Mussolini and the Perons and will not be to everyone's taste. The Toulouse production is much less controversial - actually just much less of anything. Apparently it's called "elegant minimalism"! The set is some sort of dark metal box with nautical-style doors and wooden plank flooring - like being in the depths of a vast cargo ship. The patricians wear dark grey and all have red hair - the plebs wear muted colours and have their heads covered. Irene and the Cardinal wear red. All the characters have their faces painted white (apart from the solitary african guy in the chorus) and wear bright red lipstick which unfortunately stains their teeth orange - a very odd effect. Apart from that, they mostly just stand around and sing. The overture is accompanied by the showing of news films depicting crowds reacting to tyrannical regimes, but unfortunately the Video Director keeps cutting away from this to show players in the orchestra, which wrecks the effect.

Torsten Kerl is excellent in both versions - ringing and heroic. The two leading ladies are very good in both versions, although I have a slight preference for Camilla Nylund and Kate Aldrich in Berlin. The chorus and orchestra are superb. Both versions are heavily cut, but the Toulouse version includes about 20 minutes more music, including the superbly atmospheric Anathema scene.

Sound and pictures are both superb. Technical details: 24-bit LPCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.

What both versions show is that this opera deserves a more secure place in the repertoire - as another reviewer points out, it was Wagner's most popular opera during his lifetime. I suspect that the opera's neglect in the last 100 years or so is more to do with Cosima's prejudices rather than the quality of the music. Buy and enjoy!
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on 9 January 2014
This Rienzi should, surely, kill Wagner's poorest opera for good. The overture is, of course, wonderful, but there it ends. The singing is far from good enough, save for the lovely voice of Jennifer O'Loughlin as the Messenger of Peace. Torsten Kerl does his best with a very difficult part, but, with his hard, piercing voice he makes it sound impossibly difficult. It is a part that is clearly beyond his abilities. Other solo parts are no batter; the singing of the chorus is at best adequate and at times, particularly in the lower parts, of indeterminate pitch; the orchestra sound is thin and badly balanced; and as for the set and costumes - words fail me other than to say they are a distracting irrelevance; as is the succession of video clips during the overture. Yet another production team of would-be artists spoiling the work of another who, even in this rather poor work, is far away their superior.

If you want to prove to a friend how awful Wagner can be, this is the recording you need.

 Wagner: Rienzi [Blu-ray] [2013] [Region Free]
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on 4 February 2014
I love the music of Rienzi, but, oh dear, this production stinks. I watched 20 minutes, then donated same to the local Hospice shop, thinking let some other poor s*d have a go with it.
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on 11 February 2015
it's okay, not the spectacle it should be
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