Rienzi

Article excerpt

Richard Wagner. Rienzi. DVD. Sebastian Lang-Lessing / Deutsche Oper Berlin. With Torsten Kerl, Camilla Nylund, Ante Jerkunica, Kate Aldrich, Krzysztof Szumánski. [Halle an der Saale, Germany]: Arthaus Musik, 2010. 101521. $39.99.

This first video of the early Wagner opera Rienzi is a welcome contribution to the DVD catalogue. The grand opera dating from 1842 is a surprisingly engrossing political drama set in late medieval Rome, contrasting large public scenes with private double-dealing. With some conventional numbers and some larger, more dramatic sections in the later acts, its score at times echoes Meyerbeer and at others, bel canto. The work bears scant resemblance to mature Wagner, and the score contains both inspired and banal music. Today the opera is best known for its reception by one individual: Adolf Hitler was obsessed with it. The parallels with its demagogic, messianic title character are only too obvious, and serve as the hook for this 2009 Deutsche Oper Berlin production.

Rienzi is a forbiddingly long work, and most recordings and performances are cut. The premiere reputedly ran over six hours, and it is believed the lost manuscript score of this edition burned in Hitler's bunker. Later editions are nearly as long. This production, however, takes cutting to a new extreme presenting only around half the score. Excisions are both large, such as the entire No. 7 (the opening scene of Act 2) and small (seemingly no aria or recit is leftintact without internal cuts). Only the wellknown overture is performed in its entirety. Some of the strongest music remains, such as Rienzi and Adriano's major arias, but some cuts seem to have been made for reasons of expediency rather than artistic merit. (The loss of the concertante with children's chorus in Act 2 is unfortunate.) This approach drastically alters the mood of the opera, which goes from a stately and complex political tragedy to a fragmentary series of tableaus painted in broad dramatic strokes, the supporting characters rendered inconsequential or eliminated completely. Scholars will find it lacking as a performance of Rienzi, serving as little more than a preview. The producers are honest about the edition, describing it as a "version in two parts by Philipp Stölzl and Christian Maier. …