Rienzi - Felsenreitschule, 14 August 2013
Interesting how the nitwits who rail against modern opera productions on "not what the composer wanted" grounds remain quiet as mice in the face of even the most savage cuts to scores. But as even Wagner himself recognised, Rienzi is like the Christmas tree that won't fit through the front door. Serious pruning is essential, even if the remaining torso is left misshapen.
For this concert performance, Philippe Jordan trimmed its five-plus hours almost in half, leaving the sort of dramatic non-sequiturs that would make it impossible to stage, but a surprisingly pacey three hour stump. With the in-house 'acoustic enhancement' system turned to 11 from start to finish it was impossible to nod off anyway. The volume would give the Notting Hill Carnival a run for its money.
Although the sound system masked any dynamic subtleties, the well-schooled Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester gave the disappointing Vienna Philharmonic a lesson in Wagner. Jordan conducted with proselytic vigour.
Even with the cuts, the title role is impossibly long and tough. So it's to Christopher Ventris's credit that he survived the course, even if he sounded noticeably less fresh three hours after he'd started. Sophie Koch made an attractive, if not exactly nuanced, Adriano, and Emily Magee a hard-edged Irene. Once again Georg Zeppenfeld, this time as Rienzi's enemy Colonna, took home the vocal honours.
If this year's Wagnerversary has done one thing, it has been to prove that Wagner's early operas are unfairly neglected - Die Feen particularly. Rienzi is no Tristan - or even Holländer come to that. But it transcends its dubious Italian sources, many of which now have the toehold in the repertoire that Rienzi has failed to gain.