Rienzi, The Last of the Tribunes

Synopsis
Overture

The opera opens with a substantial overture which begins with a trumpet call (which in Act 3 we learn is the war call of the Colonna family) and features the melody of Rienzi's prayer at the start of Act 5, which became the opera's best-known aria. The overture ends with a military march.
Act 1

Outside Rienzi's house

The patrician Orsini and his cronies attempt to kidnap Rienzi's sister Irene. Stefano Colonna, also a patrician but inclined to support Rienzi, prevents them. Raimondo appeals to the parties in the name of the Church to stop their fighting; Rienzi's eventual appearance (marked by a dramatic key shift, from D to E flat) quells the riot. The Roman people support Rienzi's condemnation of the nobles. Irene and Adriano realise their mutual attraction (duet Ja, eine Welt voll Leiden (Yes, a world of sorrows)). A gathering crowd of plebeians, inspired by Rienzi's speeches, offers Rienzi the crown; he demurs, insisting that he wishes only to be a Tribune of the Roman people.
Act 2

A hall in the Capitol

The patricians plot the death of Rienzi; Adriano is horrified when he learns of this. Rienzi greets a group of ambassadors for whom an entertainment (a lengthy ballet) is laid on. Orsini attempts to stab Rienzi, who however is protected by a vest of chain-mail. Adriano pleads with Rienzi for mercy to the nobles, which Rienzi grants.

The Act 2 ballet is noteworthy as Wagner made a clear attempt to make it relevant to the action of the opera (whereas in most Grand Operas the ballet was simply an entertaining diversion). The Rienzi ballet was intended to tell the tale of the 'Rape of Lucretia'. This storyline (in which Tarquinius, the last king of Rome, attempts to rape the virtuous Lucretia), parallels both the action of Rienzi (Orsini's attempt on Irene) and its background (patricians versus the people).[18] In its original form the ballet lasts for over half an hour – in modern performances and recordings it is generally drastically cut.
Act 3

The Roman Forum

The patricians have recruited an army to march on Rome. The people are alarmed. Rienzi rouses the people and leads them to victory over the nobles, in the course of which Adriano's father Stefano is killed. Adriano swears revenge, but Rienzi dismisses him.
 
Act 4

Before the Lateran Church

Cecco and other citizens discuss the negotiations of the patricians with the Pope and with the Emperor of Germany. Adriano's intention to kill Rienzi wavers when Rienzi arrives together with Irene. Raimondo now announces that the Pope has laid a papal ban on Rienzi, and that his associates risk excommunication. Despite Adriano's urgings, Irene resolves to stay with Rienzi.
Act 5

Scene 1: A room in the Capitol

Rienzi in his prayer Allmächt’ger Vater (Almighty Father!) asserts his faith in the people of Rome. He suggests to Irene that she seeks safety with Adriano, but she demurs. An apologetic Adriano enters and tells the pair that the Capitol is to be burnt and they are at risk. [19]

Scene 2: The Capitol is ablaze

Rienzi's attempts to speak are met with stones and insults from the fickle crowd. Adriano, in trying to rescue Rienzi and Irene, is killed with them as the building collapses.

In the original performances, Rienzi's final words are bitter and pessimistic: "May the town be accursed and destroyed! Disintegrate and wither, Rome! Your degenerate people wish it so." However for the 1847 Berlin performance Wagner substituted a more upbeat rhetoric: "Ever while the seven hills of Rome remain, ever while the eternal city stands, you will see Rienzi's return!".

Program and cast

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April 2019 Next

Deutsche Oper Berlin

The Deutsche Oper Berlin is an opera company located in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin, Germany. The resident building is the country's second largest opera house and also home to the Berlin State Ballet.

The company's history goes back to the Deutsches Opernhaus built by the then independent city of Charlottenburg—the "richest town of Prussia"—according to plans designed by Heinrich Seeling from 1911. It opened on November 7, 1912 with a performance of Beethoven's Fidelio, conducted by Ignatz Waghalter. After the incorporation of Charlottenburg by the 1920 Greater Berlin Act, the name of the resident building was changed to Städtische Oper (Municipal Opera) in 1925.

Deutsches Opernhaus, 1912
With the Nazi Machtergreifung in 1933, the opera was under control of the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Minister Joseph Goebbels had the name changed back to Deutsches Opernhaus, competing with the Berlin State Opera in Mitte controlled by his rival, the Prussian minister-president Hermann Göring. In 1935, the building was remodeled by Paul Baumgarten and the seating reduced from 2300 to 2098. Carl Ebert, the pre-World War II general manager, chose to emigrate from Germany rather than endorse the Nazi view of music, and went on to co-found the Glyndebourne opera festival in England. He was replaced by Max von Schillings, who acceded to enact works of "unalloyed German character". Several artists, like the conductor Fritz Stiedry or the singer Alexander Kipnis followed Ebert into emigration. The opera house was destroyed by a RAF air raid on 23 November 1943. Performances continued at the Admiralspalast in Mitte until 1945. Ebert returned as general manager after the war.

After the war, the company in what was now West Berlin used the nearby building of the Theater des Westens until the opera house was rebuilt. The sober design by Fritz Bornemann was completed on 24 September 1961. The opening production was Mozart's Don Giovanni. The new building opened with the current name.

© Günter Karl Bose
© © Günter Karl Bose
© Bettina Stöß
© © Bettina Stöß
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