- Richard Wagner. Grosse tragische Oper in five acts. 1840.
- Libretto by the composer, after the novel by Edward Bulwer- Lytton.
- First performance at the Königlich Sächsisches Hoftheater, Dresden, on 20th October 1842.
|Cola Rienzi, a Roman tribune ||tenor|
|Irene, his sister ||soprano|
|Steffano Colonna, a nobleman ||bass|
|Adriano, his son ||mezzo-soprano|
|Paolo Orsini, a nobleman ||bass|
|Cardinal Raimondo, Papal Legate ||bass|
|Baroncelli, a Roman citizen ||tenor|
|Cecco del Vecchio, a Roman citizen ||bass|
|Messenger of Peace ||soprano|
The Pope has fled from Rome and open conflict has broken out between the two noble families,
the Colonna and the Orsini. One of the latter seeks to abduct Rienzi's sister Irene, who is rescued by
Adriano Colonna. Order is restored in the city by Rienzi, supported by fellow-citizens. Cardinal
Raimondo pledges Rienzi the support of the Church in curbing the powers of the feuding nobles and
Adriano eventually agrees to act with him. In spite of the public support seemingly offered to
Rienzi, the nobles scheme against him, as Adriano warns him. An attempt at assassination is foiled
but the guilty members of the nobility are spared at the urging of Irene and Adriano. Further attempt
at insurrection is made, and Orsini and Colonna are killed, but the loss of life has led the citizens now
to plot against their tribune, while the Church, with the Holy Roman Emperor, joins in his
condemnation. Adriano tries to persuade Irene to desert her brother, but she is resolute and she and
Rienzi retreat to the Capitol, where they die as the building burns.
Rienzi was Wagner's first significant operatic success, following the earlier Die Feen and Das
Liebesverbot. The plot, with its championship of the citizens against the nobility, political
partisanship with which the composer concurred, was calculated to appeal to Paris, but when no
performance there proved possible, Wagner offered it to Dresden, where it at first proved impossibly
long with a first performance that lasted some six hours. Later cuts reduced the work to more
manageable proportions. The overture remains particularly well known, while vocal excerpts that
may be heard in the concert-hall include Rienzi's declaration to the people of Rome Erstehe, hohe
Roma, neu! (Arise, great Rome, anew!), Adriano's divided loyalties in Gerechter Gott! (God of
justice!) and, best known of all, Rienzi's prayer Allmächt'ger Vater! (Almighty Father!), the theme
of which is heard in the overture.