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.

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