Notes and Editorial Reviews
"First recording" proclaimed the five-LP box in 1976. We still await a second, not to mention that first more complete recording which is possible, if not especially desirable, given that a definitive Rienzi can never be established for sure. In these circumstances, three very well filled CDs at medium price of a performance that has undeniable virtues are to be welcomed for restoring a milestone in the history of opera to circulation.
Listeners persuaded that Wagner only really found himself with Der fliegende Holländer may well be surprised to hear how much of that work—and of Tannhäuser and Lohengrin—is prefigured in Rienzi. It is nevertheless more grand opera than romantic opera, not least because the
hero (the tragic Roman tribune of Bulwer Lytton's novel) is so completely a political animal; his bride, he declares to his sister in Act 5, is Rome. As for the 'grandness', this is all too evident in the extensive marches, choruses and ballet music, as well as in the predominantly forceful rhetoric of the solo vocal writing. Even in his greatest works, Wagner was not exactly addicted to understatement. In Rienzi (especially Act 3) the sustained tone of hectic aggressiveness threatens to become monotonous, and it would certainly be hard to take in a performance with less sense of theatrical impetus than this one.
The principal credit for the recording's success—all the more remarkable since it was made in two quite separate periods in 1974 and 1976—is due to the conductor Heinrich Hollreiser. He prevents the more routine material from sounding merely mechanical, and ensures that the whole work has a sweep and a conviction that persuades me, for one, that there is no reason for its continued exclusion from the Bayreuth canon: indeed, Bayreuth might be the ideal theatre for its large-scale spectacle.
Hollreiser's cast is uneven: distinguished singers like Theo Adam and Peter Schreier have little to do, whereas the main parts would tax the greatest artists in best voice. The chief disappointment is Siv Wennberg, who had promised well in Wagner in the theatre but who was clearly under strain when this recording was made. Rene Kollo often sounds as though he is singing through gritted teeth, but the character's impulsiveness is here, and this quality is probably more crucial than any heroic nobility or religious sensibility. Janis Martin also conveys youthful impetuosity, and she, at least, is able to discover a gentler vein now and again.
The recording is no more than adequate by today's standards. Fortunately, the conductor's evident (and justified) belief in the significance of the enterprise remains as persuasive as ever.
-- Gramophone [2/1992]
Reviewing earlier release of this recording
Works on This Recording
Rienzi by Richard Wagner
Peter Schreier (Tenor),
Siv Wennberg (Soprano),
René Kollo (Tenor),
Janis Martin (Mezzo Soprano),
Nikolaus Hillebrand (Bass),
Theo Adam (Bass Baritone),
Siegfried Vogel (Bass),
Günther Leib (Baritone),
Ingeborg Springer (Mezzo Soprano)
Leipzig Radio Chorus,
Dresden State Opera Chorus
Written: 1840-1843; Germany
Date of Recording: 1974-76
Venue: Lukaskirche, Dresden, East Germany
Length: 218 Minutes 2 Secs.
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