Richard Wagner and Festival Theatre

By Simon Williams | Go to book overview

emulated. The oppressiveness of this vision is mitigated in part by the utopian vision of peace, but, in general, both the staging and music emphasize the idealization of force.

Rienzi is characteristic of its creator in its excessiveness. Lasting well over four hours (the première in Dresden ran for six), the opera is a seemingly neverending series of processions, battles, and triumphal scenes. Although the stage direction that "all citizens of Rome capable of bearing arms march off ready for battle and in order" is not perhaps to be taken literally, it is a good indication of the gigantic dimensions of the opera. At times, the stage directions are effective, but their impact is usually lost in a seemingly indiscriminate exploitation of all the known stage effects of grand opera. As for the music, it is difficult not to agree with Ernest Newman, who found fewer memorable passages in Rienzi than in Wagner's other stage works. 13 One immense ensemble is piled upon another. The whole is wearisomely noisy, with finales extended to the point of absurdity. Monotonous march rhythms abound, even in ensembles where they have little place, and, like the characters themselves, the music is persistently rhetorical. Only on a few occasions, such as in the orchestral introduction to act 3 or the chorus of women during the battle that follows, does the music capture a specific emotion, here the fear of war and its monstrous destruction. Most of the time, the music seems intended to incite to battle and hence is rhetorical rather than descriptive. In general, Rienzi is Wagner least attractive work.

In the middle of composing the opera, Wagner reached a crisis in his affairs with the Riga theatre. Steadily intensifying strains between him and Holtei led to the latter's resignation, but not before the manager had made certain that Wagner would lose the musical directorship. Once again unemployed and ever deeper in debt, Wagner and his wife were forced to flee secretly across the Russo-Prussian border in order to escape his creditors. After some adventures, including an accident in a cart that may have injured Minna so badly that she could not have children, the fugitive couple set sail from the tiny port of Pillau on a journey that would end in Paris. That journey also ended the days of Wagner's apprenticeship.


NOTES
1
Quoted in Curt von Westernhagen, Wagner: A Biography, 2 vols. ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 1: 5.
1
Richard Wagner, Mein Leben, 2d ed. ( Munich: Bruckmann, 1915), 6 (henceforward ML). All translations from the German are my own, unless otherwise indicated.

-17-

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Richard Wagner and Festival Theatre
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Foreword xi
  • Preface xiii
  • Abbreviations xvii
  • Chapter 1 - The Fiery Conformist 1
  • Notes 17
  • Chapter 2 Bohemian in Paris 19
  • Notes 29
  • Chapter 3 - Kapellmeister in Dresden 31
  • Notes 52
  • Chapter 4 - Revolutionary in Exile 53
  • Notes 75
  • Chapter 5 - Romantic in Exile 77
  • Notes 90
  • Chapter 6 - The King's Friend 91
  • Notes 109
  • Chapter 7 - The Master of Bayreuth 111
  • Notes 131
  • Chapter 8 - The Dying Magus 133
  • Notes 145
  • Chapter 9 - Wagner's Theatrical Legacy 147
  • Notes 161
  • Chronology of Wagner's Life 163
  • Further Reading 171
  • Index 177
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