Richard Wagner Rienzi, der letzte der Tribunen
Great tragic opera in five acts
by Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Text by the composer based on the novel Rienzi, the Last of the Roman Tribunes by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873)
With German and english surtitles
Duration of the opera approx. 4 hours.
Print programme (PDF)
Even though in old age Richard Wagner the music-dramatist distanced himself from his early opera Rienzi, in 1842, at the age of 29, it brought him the decisive artistic breakthrough. In 1835 the historic figure Cola di Rienzi achieved great popularity through the novel Rienzi, the Last of the Roman Tribunes by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Rienzi’s efforts during the feudal-Christian Middle Ages to newly create the Roman republic certainly contained politically explosive subject matter. In his version of the libretto Wagner adapted the story of the charismatic Tribune to suit the requirements of the form of grand opéra. Rienzi succeeded in gaining power so as to lead Rome – crisis-ridden because of the power struggle of two aristocratic families – back to classical ideals, and Wagner also introduced an erotic love triangle. “Grand opera, with all its scenic and musical splendour, its massive forces and effective musical passion, stood there before me; my artistic ambition wanted not merely to imitate it, but to surpass it with wholehearted wastefulness, going beyond all its previous manifestations.” Wagner later described this opera as a “sin of my youth” but with it he succeeded in surpassing the well-known representatives of grand opéra; incidentally it also allows first insights into the budding music dramatist and clearly sets the points in that future direction. For instance, in the treatment of the orchestra which in colour and nuances outclassed even Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, but also in what was at the time the completely new kind of harmonic richness with which he captured the rise and fall of the upstart who failed ultimately because of his hubris and the people’s fickleness.
Musicologist Egon Voss summarized Rienzi as follows: “Wagner’s Rienzi is in extensive passages more of an Italian than a German opera; Wagner’s predilection and enthusiasm for Bellini had a greater impact on Rienzi than on any other of his scores […] Precisely this Wagnerian Italianità, which is also a remarkable characteristic of Der fliegende Holländer and of Tannhäuser, is the strength of the score.”
Translated by Elizabeth Mortimer