The Gramophone Choice
René Kollo (ten) Cola Rienzi Siv Wennberg (sop) Irene Janis Martin (sop) Adriano Theo Adam (bass) Paolo Orsini Nikolaus Hillebrand (bass) Steffano Colonna Siegfried Vogel (bass) Raimondo Peter Schreier (ten) Baroncelli Günther Leib (bass) Cecco del Vecchio Ingeborg Springer (sop) Messenger of Peace Leipzig Radio Chorus; Dresden State Opera Chorus; Staatskapelle Dresden / Heinrich Hollreiser
EMI 567131-2 (3h 45' · ADD · T/t) Recorded 1974-76. Buy from Amazon
Rienzi is grand opera with a vengeance. Political imperatives count for more than mere human feelings, and politics means ceremony as well as warfare: marches, ballet music and extended choruses are much in evidence in this work, while even the solo arias often have the rhetorical punch of political harangues. It could all be an enormous bore. Yet the young Wagner, basing his work on Bulwer Lytton’s story of the tragic Roman tribune, did manage to move beyond mere tub-thumping into a degree of intensity that – for those with ears to hear – prefigures the mature genius to come. In the end, Rienzi himself is more than just a political animal, and the existential anguish of Tannhäuser, Tristan and even Amfortas can be found glimmering in the distance. This performance isn’t ideal in every respect, either musically or as a recording. But its virtues outweigh its weaknesses by a considerable margin. Siv Wennberg was not in best voice at the time but the other principals, notably René Kollo and Janis Martin, bring commendable stamina and conviction to their demanding roles. Above all, Heinrich Hollreiser prevents the more routine material from sounding merely mechanical, and ensures that Rienzi has a truly Wagnerian sweep and fervour.