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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 15, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 15
DVD a rare chance to see Wagner's Rienzi
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DVD a rare chance to see Wagner's Rienzi

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Rienzi
DVD from The Deutsche Oper Berlin


If you wish to see an interesting, well-executed reduction of 26-year-old Richard Wagner's first successful opera, Rienzi, then this two-DVD set of a live performance at Deutsche Oper Berlin will serve very well. The sound and picture are consistently excellent. The production, reducing the original six-hour opera to two and a half hours, is an intelligent updating to a very relevant Nazi-like 20th century.

The musical values are excellent, as well. The two main characters, Rienzi and Adriano, are portrayed by singers who may well soon become famous, for both are excellent. Torsten Kerl (Rienzi) is that rare breed: a convincing heldentenor who seems never to tire and who sings an excellent line. He never barks his music, and his acting is appropriate and consistent. Even more exciting is mezzo Kate Aldrich, singing the trouser role of Adriano. She is an attractive, natural actress who produces a gorgeous sound in all ranges, even when most passionate. Not since Christa Ludwig have I seen such a diminutive figure produce such a seemingly effortless flow of truly big sounds without the slightest sign of strain. Her musicianship is impeccable, and she never seems to run out of gas.

Sebastian Lang-Lessing conducts the chorus and orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin with sweep and vigor. The deservedly famous overture is beautifully played. The chorus has an especially important role. In fact, when I showed this DVD to about 15 of my opera friends, one of the chief criticisms was that we were bombarded by one big chorus after another, with little in between. However, one friend who had seen the original six-hour staging in Berlin said that the choruses were less obtrusive there. At any rate, the chorus sings well and is captured in clean, dynamic sound.

Stage Director Philipp Stölzl manages the many crowd scenes well, and the interactions between the singers never seems awkward or aimless.

If you are familiar with the music in Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, you will recognize his idiom here. The two operas were written in part simultaneously. Although one of my friends fell asleep, I did not find either the music or the production boring. The singing of the leads was quite exciting, and there were no poor singers, although I did find Camilla Nylund's Irene a little wobbly for my tastes. Other singers were Ante Jerkunica (Steffano Colonna), Krzysztof Szumanski (Paolo Orsini), Lenus Carlson (Cardinal Orvieto), Clemens Bieber (Baroncelli), and Stephen Bronk (Cecco del Vecchio). The overture is staged with actor Gernot Frischling standing in for Rienzi, who listens in rapture to the overture on a morning glory phonograph. The music transports him to perform some physical gestures in expression of his transport.

The full title, Rienzi, The Last Tribune, reflects the character of the Mussolini/Hitler type 'hero' who rises to power by promising to return Italy to Roman glory, then gradually falls from his position and dies while cursing Rome and its people. The Nazi references are seemingly natural to the story. I did not find the concept distracting from the music. While it is no wonder that the six-hour version is almost never produced in the U.S., I'm not sure that this reduction, requiring a good heldentenor, will see a mounting anytime soon. So, this DVD is your chance.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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