Cher Public

“The most significant dramatic creation since Les Huguenots”

Awaiting the return of Parsifal to the Met, “Trove Thursday” hops to the other end of Wagner’s oeuvre with a recent Rienzi der letzte der Tribunen from Madrid featuring Andreas Schager (rumored to be the Met’s next Siegfried), Anja Kampe, Claudia Mahnke, James Rutherford and Stephen Milling

I was embarrassed to discover how little I knew about Rienzi’s place in the history of Wagner’s operas. I had assumed that it and Der Fliegende Holländer were separated by quite a few years but was startled to learn that their world premieres in Dresden were less than three months apart. In addition, although the earlier opera is set in 14th century Rome it was based on a contemporary (!) novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, best known for The Last Days of Pompeii. Bulwer-Lytton’s novel was published in 1835 and within two years Wagner was drafting his libretto.

Presumably because it evokes the grand-opera “past” of Meyerbeer et. al., Rienzi, along with its predecessors Die Feen and Das Liebesverbot, is shunned by the Bayreuth Festival and excluded from the canonical ten Wagner masterpieces performed there and everywhere else. The recent staging of Rienzi by Philip Stölzl at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 2010 starred Camilla Nylund, Kate Aldrich and Torsten Kerl. It has been released on DVD and was revived as recently as two years ago. The opera was also done in concert in Budapest just last year with Robert Dean Smith, Emily Magee and Michelle Breedt.

Its primary US advocate has been Eve Queler who with her Opera Orchestra of New York performed Rienzi in concert four times—in 1980, twice in 1982 and then finally in 2012 when I heard her conduct it at Avery Fisher Hall with Elisabete Matos, Geraldine Chauvet and Ian Storey. Some of the work struck me as big and noisy (as Queler’s concerts often did) but there were many passages that I wished I could hear live in a better performance.

Today’s broadcast of the five-act work clocks in at a bit over three hours. Schager was an impressive Apollo when the Cleveland Orchestra presented Strauss’s Daphne at Lincoln Center several years ago and has extensive and impressive Wagnerian credentials throughout Europe which augur well for his possible Siegfried in the Met’s Ring next season.

Kampe has appeared on occasion in the US but the Met seems uninterested. That’s too bad because she can be an interesting if uneven artist who appears as Sieglinde conducted by her boyfriend in the upcoming Munich webstream of Die Walküre on January 22 and then in Dmitri Tcherniakov’s new Tristan und Isolde at the Berlin Staatsoper next month opposite Schager and Milling. A Bayreuth veteran, Mahnke moves from the trouser-role of Adriano here to real Meyerbeer when she appears next month in a new production of L’Africaine in Frankfurt opposite Michael Spyres as Vasco da Gama.

(The quotation in the headline is from a review by Eduard Hanslick in 1846.)

Wagner: Rienzi der Letzte der Tribunen

Teatro Real, Madrid
24 May 2012

Irene – Anja Kampe
Adriano – Claudia Mahnke
Rienzi – Andreas Schager
Paolo Orsini – James Rutherford
Steffano Colonna – Stephen Milling
Raimondo – Friedemann Röhlig
Baroncelli – Jason Bridges
Cecco del Vecchio – Carsten Wittmoser

Philharmonia Chor Wien
Coro Intermezzo
Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid
Conductor — Alejo Pérez

Rienzi can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on its audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

All “Trove Thursday” podcasts since the series began in September 2015 remain available from iTunes for free, or via any RSS reader.

  • Like you, Christopher, I didn’t know about the proximity of the Rienzi and Holländer premieres. But I thought the those three non-canonical operas were still occasionally performed at Bayreuth, so that’s something new for me to learn.

  • I was about to say it had been done recently at the Châtelet in Paris, but on Googling find “recently” was already 15 years ago… Yikes. As La Cieca says, “new” is subjective.

      • Camille

        Yes, thanks and grand merci for this:

        “Certes, l’an prochain, le Festival de Bayreuth produira cet ouvrage banni mais … le relèguera dans une salle sise à côté de la colline inspirée L’étonnant est que, au XXe siècle et même jusque dans le solide et compétent programme de salle (un numéro de l’Avant-Scène Opéra) de cette production toulousaine, Rienzi continue, ça-et-là, d’être abordé par ses prétendus défauts quasi-létaux.”

        … as it told me I hadn’t hallucinated entirely the facts that, in fact, Bayreuth had taken it upon itself to mount these works, in whatever fashion. And yes, the seventies feel like just a couple decades ago to me, sometimes, sigh. Then I nudge myself in the arse and recall we are in The Nouvelle Millennium, and wake up.

  • grimoaldo2

    “Wagner began to draft the opera in Riga in 1837, after reading Lytton’s novel. In 1839, meeting Meyerbeer by chance in Boulogne, he was able to read the latter the first three acts of the libretto, and to gain his interest. Meyerbeer also introduced Wagner to Ignaz Moscheles, who was also staying at Boulogne; as Ernest Newman comments, this was “Wagner’s first meeting with real international musical celebrities”….With the support of Meyerbeer, a staging of Rienzi was arranged in Dresden; Meyerbeer wrote to the Director of the Opera in Dresden, Baron von Lüttichau, that he found the opera “rich in fantasy and of great dramatic effect”….This, with the proposed staging of The Flying Dutchman in Berlin, also supported by Meyerbeer, persuaded Wagner to return to Germany in April 1842.”
    It was Meyerbeer who got Wagner his first big breaks as a composer. Wagner repaid him by attacking him in his scurrilous book “Jewishness in Music.”
    Meyerbeer never responded in public to these attacks although he was deeply hurt.

    • Camille

      Have you ever seen that “WAGNER” TV series, starring a very late in the day Richard Burton, with an outstanding turn as Cosima, by Vanessa Redgrave?

      There are a lot of interesting incidents, but there is one in particular involving a confrontation of Wagner with Meyerbeer in the opera house at the time of the Paris prèmiere of his Tannhäuser. It may interest you to watch it sometime; very telling.

      My very favorite portion of the entire series is probably the turn Ronald Pickup does as Nietszche, in a very fateful and critical moment towards the end of his relationship with the Wagners. A wonderful performance by Mr Pickup.

      Just FWIW2U, grim. Always fighting the good fight for Meyerbeer recognition and restitution of rights, I see. You are not alone and there are many who feel similarly. I was happy to note above that Michael Spyres will be taking on Vasco da Game, again, I reckon? Go Michael!

      • grimoaldo2

        Thanks Camille! I have seen snippets of that series but never managed to watch the whole thing, I don’t remember the scene with Meyerbeer, I will look around for it. I do remember Redgrave as Cosima, she was perfect as you say.

        • Camille

          It’s at least two/thirds of the way into the series, which starts … early forties, I think? Anyway, the actor playing Meyerbeer makes a very good job of it — it was an absolutely chills down the spine moment to see these two operatic giants confronting one another, much as they do in “Il Teatro della Mia Imaginazione”. Burton later said that he really felt he was born to play this role, and he was quite good, far more convincing than I would have originally thought. Redgrave could not have been more perfect or better, at least from the limited conception I have of that very, very complex woman. Cosima Liszt, von Bülow, Wagner. It is kind of amazing to me how much her great-grand daughter, Katharina, resembles her. I always wonder if she is actually like her in personality and manners as well. What a heavy, heavy burden all those descendants have to carry around their necks.

          • PATRICK MACK

            The film by Tony Palmer of Wagner is actually streaming for free on Amazon Prime right as we speak.

  • GiacomoPuccini

    Rienzi was done in concert at Lisner Auditorium, Washington, DC, some 20 years ago. I remember enjoying it but don’t remember who the singers were other than that Deborah Voigt had been announced and then replaced by someone else.

  • Der Fiakermillo

    Kampe is coming to the Met for the new Dutchman production. She and Petrenko are no longer a couple but still colleagues. She is a fascinating performer and her Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk in Munich was incredible.

  • grimoaldo2

    Rienzi, Die Feen and Das Liebesverbot were performed at the Bayreuth Festival in 2013 for Wagner’s bicentenary, but not on the hallowed stage of the Festpielhaus, in a basketball court in Bayreuth.

  • Camille

    Ah, well, a couple things. Firstly, thanks for the listen.

    Second, I could not agree more with the description of Anja Kampe, to which I would add “simpatica”, or maybe better yet, “SYMPA”. The one really believable Fidelio interpretation I’ve thus far seen. Whatever shortness on top of the voice she more than makes up for in depth and breadth of her interpretations. Here, as Irene, and with her relatively higher tessitura, well, I don’t know how it will work out especially as we can’t see her, but I’ll give it a shot put and see.

    Andras Schager is an interesting Heldentenor … not such a big burly guy, like say, Ian Storey is, but he gets the job done, and very well, too.

    Isn’t a part of the problem with Rienzi the fact that Hitler owned the original manuscript thereto, and died in the bunkers with it? At least, that’s the legend I’ve heard. It was given to him by the inimitable doyenne, Winifred Wagner, if I recall correctly?

    Another correct recollection which I had to substantiate is the fact that Bayreuth, in deed and in fact, did put on the three “non-canonical” works, in 2013, upon the bicentenary of Der Meister. I seemed to have a tickler in my file that Jennifer Wilson had sung in Rienzi in Bayreuth, which led me on a merry chase to an “Intermezzo” item from that time attesting to these facts, which I will attach later when I get more industrious. (Anyone interested may google away and find it for themselves.) All three of these works were given, not all in the actual Bayreuth theatre. Perhaps our beloved duenna, Jungfer Marianne would have examples of these iterations? I don’t know as I haven’t checked.

    Und letzte, on a purely subjective and personal Memory Lane basis, I was once in the church, on the right side of the banks of the Tiber, too, as it is, where Cola di Rienzo actually implore the mercy and clemency of the heavens, and as has been immortalized in the hit song of this work “Allmächter Vater”.

    The church (whose name escapes me at the moment) is still very much there and intact, just as it probably was in the day of Signor di Rienzo. It duly impressed and awestruck little me to stand there and take it all in, considering what ensued historically, and later, how these facts were gathered up and refashioned for us, first by the author of the book, and then by the composer of the opera. History is boring, remote, and the refuge of dusty old people--so think die Junge Leute--and only in books, that is, until we actually go to a place and have the experience of “Hey, these dudes were alive once, just like *ME*!” Once one begins to consider that there is only NOW, and NOW soon becomes History, well, one begins to see how it all links up.

    • Camille

      Here’s the link from late, great blog INTERMEZZO explaining the order of priorities in the 2013 presentation of “Die Drei Ex-KanonWerke”:

    • Lohenfal

      Camille, Hitler did in fact own the manuscript of the Rienzi full score, and it was destroyed in the bunker. That’s why it’s difficult to reconstruct the original version, without the cuts that Wagner was forced to make. The printed version is much shorter than what he intended originally.

      Winifred didn’t give the manuscript to Hitler. It was a gift of Wagner to King Ludwig of Bavaria. In 1939, a group of German businessmen purchased it, as well as several other key Wagner manuscripts, and presented the lot to Hitler on his 50th birthday. Towards the end of WWII, Wieland and his brother-in-law, Bodo Lafferentz, visited Hitler in Berlin to try to get these manuscripts back but were unsuccessful. Hitler assured them that they would be safe in his keeping. We know how that turned out.

  • NineDragonSpot

    Once upon a time, Berlin’s Komische Oper had a somewhat-abbreviated, “immersive” Rienzi in their repertoire. Rienzi sometimes sang from the central box, the chorus occasionally sang from the audience.

    I happened to catch Kampe last October when she was stepping in for an ailing Petra Maria Schnitzer at a performance of ??? in, of all places, Taichung. Her Sieglinde was one of the best things on stage, by turns feral and heroic. She also emerged victorious over the conductor in several hand-to-hand grapples over disputed downbeats and tempi.

    • Camille

      “She also emerged victorious over the conductor in several hand-to-hand grapples over disputed downbeats and tempi.”

      Hahaha! Good on her! To the winner go the spoils! Were those disputes in that famous miasma of an entrance in the second act? Or just every which way but up?

      • NineDragonSpot

        The tussles, for obvious reasons, were mainly in the first act. Taiwan’s National Symphony Orchestra is testing its limits by programming the Ring (one installment each year), so these dust ups are to be expected. Next on deck: Qigefulide!

        (The most distinctive performance came from Jukka Rasilainen, certainly the iciest Wotan I can recall seeing.)

        I confess that when I arrived at the theater, and saw that Kampe was in for Schnitzer, I let out one or two gleeful yelps. This may have caused some momentary alarm among my fellow attendees.

        One benefit of seeing Wagner in Taichung is that post-performance snax are plentiful at the Fengjia night market, arguably Taiwan’s best.

      • I saw the “Könegin des Schnoozefesten” as Sieglinde in 2015 and wrote at the time that “her final outpouring (…) was exhilarating.” Never seen her since.

    • grimoaldo2

      “a performance of ??? in, of all places, Taichung”

      Now where else in the whole wide world could one read a clause like that?
      Very nice to have your unique posts and insights back again.

  • fantasia2000

    Thank you very much for this Christopher. It’s much appreciated. It’s very timely too, as I have tickets to those two upcoming performances you mentioned, Tristan at Berlin Staatsoper with Schager, Kampe and Milling (conducted by Daniel Barenboim), and the opening night of L’Africaine (Vasco da Gama) with Spyres, Mahnke and Brian Mulligan at Oper Frankfurt.

    It’s interesting that Oper Frankfurt will present the new critical edition of the original version, but will retain the title L’Africaine, with “Vasco da Gama” in brackets. Not too sure what’s the reasoning behind it. (Deutsche Oper presented it under Vasco da Gama).

    • grimoaldo2

      I am jealous! Please report back to us about L’Africaine/Vasco da Gama.

      • fantasia2000

        Will do, grim! I’m so excited to catch this and the new production of Ariodante with Will Christie conducting & Sarah Connolly, both on opening nights, on a single trip! :)

      • fantasia2000

        grim, are you aware that Opera de Paris is rumored to do Les Huguenots with Bryan Hymel as Raoul, Diana Damrau as Marguerite and her husband as Marcel, in a new production by Andreas Kriegenburg (who did Bayerische Staatsoper’s Ring cycle) next season? I think it’ll certainly be interesting if it indeed happens. I saw JDF as Raoul, so Hymel will certainly have a different take on Raoul. I love Damrau, and I can’t wait to see her take on Marguerite!!!!

        • grimoaldo2

          Yes I definitely am aware of that, it has been on “Paris Opera Futures” or whatever they call it for some time and I am eagerly awaiting the announcement of Paris Opera’s new season for the dates. I hope it is more than just a rumour.

          • fantasia2000

            Well, the rumored new season is listed below, without the dates. Jaho as Valentine, Deshayes as Urbain for Les Huguenots!!!! WOW!!! I’m most interested in Tristan, Huguenots, Les Troyens, and Scarlatti’s Il Primo Omicido. Maybe Warlikowski’s new Lady Macbeth too.

            — list starts here —
            2018-2019, Tristan und Isolde -- ms Peter Sellars / Bill Viola -- dm Philippe Jordan -- Andreas Schager (Tristan), Martina Serafin (Isolde), René Pape (Le Roi Marke), Matthias Goerne (Kurwenal), Ekaterina Gubanova (Brangane) -- 11/09 au 09/10 (reprise)
            2018-2019, Bérénice (d’après Racine et composé par Michael Jarrell) -- NP -- ms Claus Guth -- Barbara Hannigan, Bo Skovhus -- dm Ph.Jordan (Garnier -- octobre 2018)
            2018-2019, Les Huguenots -NP- ms Andreas Kriegenburg -- dm Michele Mariotti / Lukasz Borowicz -- Bryan Hymel (Raoul), Diana Damrau (Marguerite de Valois), Ermonela Jaho (Valentine), Karine Deshayes (Urbain), Patrick Bolleire (Thoré, Maurevert), Nicolas Testé (Marcel), Florian Sempey (Nevers), Julie Robart-Gendre, Tomislav Lavoie -- octobre 2018
            2018-2019, Elisir d’Amore (L’) -- ms Laurent Pelly (reprise) -- dm Giacomo Sagripanti -- Vittorio Grigolo / Paolo Fanale (Nemorino) -- 10 nov, Lisette Oropesa / Valentina Nafornita (Adina), Etienne Dupuis (Belcore), Gabriele Viviani (Dulcamara)
            2018-2019, Don Giovanni -- NP -- ms Van Hove -- dm Ph.Jordan -- Etienne Dupuis, Ain Anger, Jacquelyn Wagner (Donna Anna), Nicole Car (Elvira), Elsa Dreisig (Zerlina), Philippe Sly (Leporello) -- Mikhail Timoshenko (Masetto), Stanislas de Barbeyrac (Don Ottavio) -- Opéra Garnier (coproduction MET)
            2018-2019, Otello – ms Serban (reprise), dm de Billy, avec Roberto Alagna / Antonenko, Kurzak / Gerzmava, Gagnidze, Antoun
            2018-2019, Lady Macbeth de Mzensk -- NP -- ms Krzysztof Warlikowski -- dm Metzmacher -- Ulyanov, Ausrine Stundyte, Daszak, Cernoch, Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Tsymbalyuk
            2018-2019, Les Troyens -- NP- ms Tcherniakov -- dm Jordan -- S.d’Oustrac (Cassandre), E.Garanca (Didon), B.Hymel (Enée), S.Degout (Chorèbe),Cyrille Dubois (Iopas), Véronique Gens (Hecube), Michele Losier (Ascagne), Tomislav Lavoie -- janvier 2019
            2018-2019, Il Primo Omicidio (Scarlatti) -- NP -- ms Romeo Castellucci -- B’Rock Orchestra -- dm René Jacobs -- Birigitte Christensen (Eva), Hammarstrom (Caino), Vermeulen (Abel) (22, 24, 26, 29, 31 janvier, 03, 06, 09, 12, 14, 17, 20, 23 février 2019) (coproduction Staatsoper Berlin / Teatro Massimo, Palerme)
            2018-2019, Simon Boccanegra -- NP -- ms Bieito -- dm Luisi -- Ludovic Tézier, Agresta / Hartig (Amelia), Kares (Fiesco), Nicola Alaimo (Paolo), Francesco Demuro (Adorno) (coproduction Deutsche Oper)
            2018-2019, Iolanta / Casse-Noisette -- ms Tcherniakov -- dm Tomas Hanus -- Artur Rucinski, Valentina Nafornita, Ain Anger, Dmytro Popov -- mai 2019 (reprise)
            2018-2019, Rusalka -- ms Robert Carsen (reprise) -- dm Mälkki -- Camilla Nylund, Semenchuk (Jezibaba), Elodie Méchain, Klaus Florian Vogt (Le Prince), Karita Mattila ( La Princesse étrangère)
            2018-2019, Tosca -- ms Pierre Audi (reprise) -- dm Ettinger -- Harteros/Serafin/Yoncheva, Kaufmann/Puente, Lucic / Salsi, Rodolphe Briand
            2018-2019, Carmen -- ms Calixto Bieito -- dm Viotti -- Roberto Alagna / Jean-François Borras- Nicole Car /Anett Fritsch (Micaela- Anita Rachvelishvili / Ksenia Dudnikova (Carmen), Roberto Tagliavini (Escamillo) (reprise)
            2018-2019, La Traviata -- ms Benoit Jacquot (reprise) -- dm Sagripanti/Chichon, Kurzak/Jaho (Violetta), Borras/Castronovo (Alfredo), Ludovic Tézier/George Gagnidze/Luca Salsi (Germont), Christophe Gay
            2018-2019, La Cenerentola -- ms Gallienne (reprise) -- dm Pido -- Brownlee, Sempey (Dandini), Corbelli, Skerath (Clorinda), Druet (Tisbe), Crebassa (Angelina)
            2018-2019, Don Pasquale -- ms Michieletto (reprise) -- dm Mariotti -- Perusi, Kwiecen, Camarena, Yende, Guieu
            2018-2019, La Flûte Enchantée -- ms Robert Carsen (reprise) -- dm Nanasi -Julien Behr (Tamino), Florian Sempey, Chloé Briot, Vannina Santoni (Pamina), Jodie Devos, Julie Robart-Gendre, Elodie Méchain, Tomislav Lavoie (reprise)
            2018-2019, La Force du destin -- ms J.C Auvray (reprise) -- dm Luisotti -- Cigni, Harteros/Stikhina, Lucic, Jagde, Abrahamyan, Gabriele Viviani (Fra Melitone), Rodolphe Briand (Trabuco) (reprise)

            • fletcher

              Oh wooooww gimme that Troyens & Boccanegra & Rusalka ASAP (Karita!!)

    • Camille

      Perhaps they only announced it as L’africaine because there is already only a limited amount of recognition for the work and using its original title would only serve to flummox and confuse people, hence driving them, like Iris, away?

      By the way, the part of Sélica was originally conceived for the great doomed dark star, “la vierge de l’Opéra”, Marie-Cornélie Falcon, all the way back in the late thirties(!)—giving this opera one of the most intractably lengthy gestation periods in all the literature. More than twenty-five years.

      Seconding grimoaldo’s request to hear back about your experience as I am additionally a big admirer of Mr Spyres and wish him every success, all the time.

      • fantasia2000

        Thanks Camille. Yes, I guess you are right. Thanks for the history lesson too, much appreciated. I’m still brand new in appreciating Meyerbeer (this will only be my third live performances, following Le Huguenots and Le Prophete (both in Berlin)), but I really love what I hear so far. Definitely will travel more for Meyerbeer! Hehehehe …

        I admire Michael Spyres too. I saw him live for the first time last November in Clemenza del Tito, and he was mesmerizing as Tito; so effortless, so beautiful voice. Hopefully he’ll deliver as Vasco da Gama too!

        • Camille

          Yes, please let us know. Good to hear his Tito was such a success. An artist and a gentleman.

  • Camille

    This is a really nice recording and manages to avoid fustian bombastic overblow, all the while STILL being far too long a work to really ever much endure. It seemed as if I was twenty years older by the end of Act V or Act XX, whichever it was. Even with the cuts, it was overlong in the Quelerian Edition of 2012.

    It just makes you feel sorry for the poor singers, all of whom managed to hold up quite well. Kampe’s tessitura intact.

  • August

    Curious about this Rienzi from the 1983 Munich Festival. Anyone heard it?

    René Kollo (Rienzi, päpstlicher Notar -- Tenor)
    Cheryl Studer (Irene, seine Schwester -- Sopran)
    Jan-Hendrik Rootering (Steffano Colonna -- Bass)
    John Janssen (Adriano, sein Sohn -- Mezzosopran)
    Bodo Brinkmann (Paolo Orsini -- Bass)
    Karl Helm (Kardinal Orvieto -- Bass)
    Norbert Orth (Baroncelli, römischer Bürger -- Tenor)
    Kieth Engen (Cecco del Vecchio, römischer Bürger -- Bass)
    Carmen Anhorn (Friedensbote -- Sopran)
    Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper (Chor)
    Bayerisches Staatsorchester (Orchester)
    Wolfgang Sawallisch (Dirigent)

    • PCally

      Probably my favorite recording of the opera (admittedly limited field) with young Studer in probably her freshest voice, Kollo is good for that point in his career, and the conducting is amazing.