See study by V. Fleischer (1948, repr. 1970).
Because of its atypical style, and its sheer length, Rienzi is rarely performed today, and has never been performed at the Bayreuth Festival. Wagner later saw the work as an embarrassment, but it remained one of his most successful until his death. An ingenious staging at the English National Opera in London, produced by Nicholas Hytner in the 1980s, placed the hero in the context of 20th century totalitarianism.
The opera concerns the life of Cola di Rienzi, a medieval Italian populist figure who succeeds in outwitting and then defeating the nobles and their followers and in raising the power of the people. Magnanimous at first, he is forced by events to crush the nobles' rebellion against the people's power, but popular opinion changes and even the Church, which has earlier urged him to assert himself, turns against him. In the end the populace burns the Capitol, in which Rienzi and a few adherents have made a last stand.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, October 20, 1842|
(Conductor: Carl Gottlieb Reißiger)
|Cola Rienza, Roman Tribune||tenor||Josef Aloys Tichatschek|
|Irene, his sister||soprano||Henriette Wüst|
|Stefano Colonna, a nobleman||bass||Georg Wilhelm Dettmer|
|Adriano, his son||soprano||Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient|
|Paolo Orsini, another patrician||bass||Johann Michael Wächter|
|Raimondo, Papal Legate||bass||Gioacchino Vestri|
|Baroncelli, Roman citizen||tenor||Friedrich Traugott Reinhold|
|Cecco del Vecchio, Roman citizen||bass||Karl Risse|
|The Messenger of Peace||soprano||Anna Thiele|
|Ambassadors, Nobles, Priests, Monks, Soldiers, Messengers, Populace|
Recordings of the overture include: James Levine conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Wagner: Overtures & Preludes, 1993 (Deutsche Grammophon), Michael R. Gomez conducting the Vienna Philharmonic 2005 (EMI).