Cola di Rienzi

Cola di Rienzi

[ree-en-zee; It. ryen-dzee]
Rienzi or Rienzo, Cola di, 1313?-1354, Roman popular leader. In 1343 on a mission to Pope Clement VI at Avignon, he won the papal confidence. While there he befriended Petrarch. Returning to Rome as papal votary, he won great popular support and received (May, 1347) wide dictatorial powers, which he claimed to hold under the pope's sovereignty. He crushed the barons and began great reforms in an effort to rouse an Italian national conscience. Calling himself tribune of the sacred Roman republic, he sought to rally the support of the other Italian cities and dreamed of a popular Italian empire with Rome as the capital. The pope, aroused by his policies, incited the barons against him. Renzi was defeated (Dec., 1347) and fled. At Prague in 1350 he disclosed to Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV his conviction that they shared a call to regenerate the Roman Catholic Church and the world. Charles, however, responded by jailing him and in 1352 sent him to Avignon to face the Inquisition. The new pope, Innocent VI, subsequently absolved and freed Rienzi and sent him with Cardinal Albornoz to Italy. The cardinal made him senator, and Rienzi entered Rome in triumph, but his violent and arbitrary rule soon resulted in a popular uprising and in his murder. In modern times Rienzi has been idealized as a forerunner of Italian nationalism.

See study by V. Fleischer (1948, repr. 1970).

Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribunen (WWV 49) (Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes) is an early opera by Richard Wagner in five acts, with the libretto written by the composer after Bulwer-Lytton's novel of the same name. (The title is commonly shortened to Rienzi.) Written between July 1838 and November 1840, it was first performed at the Hofoper, Dresden on October 20, 1842.


Rienzi is Wagner's third completed opera, and is mostly written in a Grand Opera style. It was intended to be premiered at the Paris Opera, but due to several circumstances which included the need for Wagner to flee from the city prevented the performance. The first performance in Dresden was well received despite running over six hours (including intermissions). Later, Wagner experimented both with giving the opera over two evenings and making cuts for performance in a single evening.

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

Selected recordings

Complete recordings (and performances) of Rienzi are rare, although the overture is regularly found on radio broadcasts and compilation CDs. Significant cuts to the score are common in recordings.

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).


The New Kobbé's Complete Opera Book (11th edition), 1997.

External links

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