Top positive review
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A must for opera lovers
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.