A passing comment on “Rienzi”

I couldn’t possibly claim to know anything about Opera, but I am actually listening to the Overture to Rienzi as I write.
It’s one of my favourite pieces of music; one of Richard Wagner’s earlier creations.
I mentioned this to Sasha when we met up in Melbourne earlier this month, as we discussed the likelihood of Adelaide’s Opera company putting together any more of his Operas. (It is likely that they will do another complete Ring Cycle.)
Sasha informed me that no one does Rienzi these days, and a bit of googling revealed this comment on Amazon:

I just wanted to shed some light on this work which Wagner later declared a sin of his youth. The reason the pieces is always cut is not necessarily because it is so long (God knows, he wrote other long operas) but because most of what is cut is simply repeats. These repeats interrupt the flow of the drama, something that the mature Wagner despised. He wrote this opera for one reason alone, to achieve recognition in French opera houses; therefore, it is written in the French grand opera style, which means it is full of superfluities of every sort. Nothing about this opera is “authentic Wagner,” but rather his filling out pre-disposed formulas for success. This is why in the 130 years it has been standing, the Bayreuth festival has never once performed this, or his other two early operas. Yes, there is some interesting, even possibly wonderful music in this opera, but it does not fulfill Wagner’s ideals of the genre.

I don’t even know if this is true, but I just wondered if any of the Opera crowd that read this blog could shed any light on this matter?



  1. Dave J

    I’m hardly an opera buff, but there’s something about that that just strikes me as dishonest. It’s like excising these works from history simply because the composer later looked askance at them. So they’re utterly inconsistent with what he did later…so what?

  2. TimT

    Wagner’s later operas rely on repeated ideas as well – it’s common knowledge in musical circles that he developed ‘leitmotifs’ for use in his later operas, associated with particular characters or themes.
    The only operas of Wagner’s that are played frequently are Tristan and Isolde, Tannhauser, the Ring Cycle, Lohengrin, Parsifal, The Mastersingers of Nurenburg and the Flying Dutchman (I think that’s it!) – all later efforts, hence ‘mature’ compositions. And the most commonly played excerpts from these operas will be the overtures.
    Opera is fun, and I don’t care who says otherwise!

  3. James Russell

    I’m afraid the only thing I know about Rienzi is that it’s apparently the longest of all of Wagner’s operas (which is saying something). Also it was apparently the first Wagner opera that Hitler ever heard. *raises umbrella against invocations of Godwin’s Law*

  4. Sasha Castel

    It has nothing to do with anything, but by sheer chance I happened to work as a production assistant on the only professional production of “Rienzi” in New York City in the last decade. It was Eve Queler’s Opera Orchestra of New York and featured tenor Rainer Goldberg, who, to put it succinctly, is nor missed in the world of Wagner singing. However, I once made my secret family recipe for Argentine empanadas to serve at an evening rehearsal, and he ate fully half of them. Perhaps he was merely too full to sing properly?