Two Centuries of Waiting for Rienzi

SpainSpain Richard Wagner, Rienzi: Soloists, Madrid Symphonic Orchestra, Intermezzo Chorus, Philharmonia Chorus Vienna, Alejo Pérez (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 24.5.2012 (JMI)

Concert performance


Rienzi: Andreas Schager
Adriano: Claudia Mahnke
Irene: Anja Kampe
Colonna: Stephen Milling
Orsini: James Rutherford
Orvieto: Friedemann Röhling
Baroncelli: Jason Bridges
Cecco del Vecchio: Carsten Wittmoser
Peace Messenger: Marta Matheu

Photo courtesy Tetaro Real, © Javier del Real

Richard Wagner’s early opera Rienzi hasn’t been performed at Madrid’s Teatro Real since late in the 19th century. After more than a century of dormancy, a concert version has brought it back before an enthusiastic public.

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R.Wagner, Rienzi,
H.Hollreiser / Staatskapelle Dresden
R.Kollo, S.Wennberg, P.Schreier, J.Martin et al.

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R.Wagner, Rienzi,
S.Lang-Lessing / Orchestra and Chorus Deutsche Oper Berlin
T.Kerl, C.Nylund, K.Aldrich et al.
P.Stölzl, director

Alejo Perez, whose career so far has been pretty focused at La Plata’s Teatro Argentino struck me a surprising choice as the conductor, but his reading was energetic and well suited to the characteristics of the opera, where the martial airs abound everywhere. Occasionally too loud (not unusual in Wagner), Perez solved the Wagner-test very convincingly, with orchestra and chorus responding and performing very well. Mr.Mortier must have figured so, because Mr. Pérez will be back already in July to conduct Golijov’s Ainadamar. It’s impossible (thankfully) to perform Rienzi without cuts, because the original score burnt in the firebombing of Dresden and the manuscript got lost along with Hitler in the ruins of Berlin, to whom it had been made a gift by Winifred Wagner. But the cuts for the Madrid performance were less severe than at Berlin’s Deutsche Oper a couple of years ago, which shaved another swift 40 minutes off the massive, excessive score.

Andreas Schager, replacing Burkhard Fritz, sang the part of Rienzi. This character requires a real dramatic tenor, a Heldentenor if you prefer, with the added disadvantage that the score is very demanding of the top of the range. Andreas Schager does not meet these requirements, but got through the concert with his dignity intact. He should be a good Erik, but Rienzi is too much for his voice.

The big surprise of the concert was Claudia Mahnke in the role of Adriano Colonna. Of the three main roles this is the most grateful to be sung, and Ms. Mahnke was truly superb, particularly in the great scene of Adriano in the second act of the opera. I’m surprised that she is not a regular at the best opera houses.

Anja Kampe as Irene, Rienzi’s sister and Adriano’s fiancee, dealt well and powerfully with the role’s impossible tessitura, a shouted final note apart. The other characters are much less importance and were well enough covered: Stephen Milling well suited for the part of Colonna. James Rutherford as Orsini and in much better voice than in Valencia’s Le Cid. Carsten Wittmoser as Cecco del Vecchio, Friedemann Rohling as Cardinal Orvieto, and Marta Matheu as the Peace Messenger left good impressions; Jason Bridges was a musical and rather small voiced Baroncelli.

Jose Mª Irurzun