Rienzi: Both Opera and Performance a Mixed Bag

SpainSpain Wagner: Rienzi: Barcelona’s Symphony Orchestra, Liceu’s Chorus and Polifónica Puig-Reig, Pablo González (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, 30.6.2013 (JMI)

Concert version

Rienzi: Kristian Benedikt
Adriano: Michelle Breedt
Irene: Elisabete Matos
Colonna: Peter Rose
Orsini: Alex Sanmartí
Cardinal Orvieto: Friedemann Röhling
Baroncelli: Josep Fadó
Cecco del Vecchio: Werner Van Mechelen

 Sanmartí-Breedt-Matos-Benedikt © A Bofill
Sanmartí-Breedt-Matos-Benedikt © A Bofill

The celebration of Wagner’s bicentenary has given audiences the chance to attend performances of some of his less familiar operas. In addition to this concert version of Rienzi at the Liceu there will also be a fully staged performance of Das Liebesverbot at the Peralada Festival in a month’s time. It was last October when I attended Rienzi as the opera season opener at Toulouse. Without the early works we would probably never have had the masterpieces, so it’s good for audiences to have the opportunity to experience them.

Rienzi is what you might call a mixed bag with plenty of martial airs and a lot of band music, along with some very remarkable pages. The libretto is monotonous and repetitive and only in the last two acts does the action take off in dramatic terms. I have rarely found cutting a score to be as justified as it is here, since the score is too long even for followers of French Grand Opera, which is where Rienzi truly belongs. The version used by the Liceu is the one that is most frequently seen these days. In fact it is longer – although not much – than the Berlin version of some three years ago and which is available on DVD.

The musical direction was entrusted to Pablo Gonzalez, leading Barcelona’s Symphony Orchestra. His reading was somewhat irregular, as is the opera itself in musical terms. In the first part I found it flat and short of energy, improving in the second half. He kept control of the orchestral volume, which could have created serious problems to more than one of the singers on stage, and he got a good performance from his orchestra, whose sound I found better than that of the resident orchestra at the Liceu. There were some boos at his solo bow, but judging by its location, its insistence, its volume and the limited support they got, I have the impression that this booing had some other meaning than the purely musical. There was an excellent performance by the chorus.

The protagonist was played by Lithuanian tenor Kristian Benedikt, who has a wide and unattractive voice with serious difficulties reaching the audience. In fact, during the ensembles he was almost inaudible. He has good musicality, singing Rienzi’s prayer well. In short, he lacks charisma, but there is little choice when casting Rienzi.

The most musical and sensitive voice came from the South African mezzo soprano Michelle Breedt, who gave us a good rendition of Adriano’s aria. The voice is attractive, homogeneous and she is a good singer, although her voice is rather small.

Elisabete Matos was a powerful Irene, whose voice stood out in the ensembles above all the others in the cast. To have somebody who can sing this part is more than enough. If her power had been accompanied with higher levels of emotion, we could have enjoyed a great Irene on stage at the Liceu.

The secondary characters were really well covered. First of all I should mention the presence of Peter Rose as Steffano Colonna, a real treat for such a short part. I enjoyed again the baritone Alex Sanmartí as Paolo Orsini. Well suited to the character was Friedemann Röhling as Cardinal Orvieto. Josep fado (Baroncelli) and Werner Van Mechelen (Cecco del Vecchio) were also good.

There were quite a few empty seats, with attendance probably below 80% of capacity. In the final bows the biggest cheers were for Michelle Breedt and Peter Rose.

José Mª. Irurzun