Rienzi The Last Of The Tribunes
In five acts by RICHARD WAGNER.
In this first opera of Wagner's one hardly recognizes the great master
of later times.--But though Wagner himself disowned this early child of
his muse, there is a grand energy in it, which preserves it from
triviality. The orchestration is brilliant, the brass instruments
predominating, and here and there one may find traces of the peculiar
power which led up to the greatness of after-years, and which sometimes
make one think of Tannhaeuser.
The libretto, taken by Wagner from Bulwer's novel, is attractive and
The hero, a pontifical notary, is a man of lofty ambition, dreaming in
the midst of the depravity of the 14th century of reerecting the old
Roma, and making her once more the Sovereign of the world. He receives
help and encouragement from the church; Cardinal Raimondo even bids him
try all means, in order to attain his end. The clergy as well as
the people are oppressed by the almighty and insolent nobles.
In the first scene we witness an act of brutality, directed against
Rienzi's sister Irene, who is however liberated by Adriano, son of the
noble Colonna. A Colonna it was, who murdered Rienzi's little brother
in sheer wantonness.--Rienzi has sworn vengeance, but, seeing Adriano
good and brave and in love with his sister, he wins him to his cause.
The nobles having left Rome to fight out a quarrel, which had been
started among them, are forbidden to reenter the town.--Rienzi calls
the people to arms and is victorious. The strongholds of the nobles
are burnt, and they are only admitted into Rome, on promising
submission to the new laws, made and represented by Rienzi, who has
been created Tribune of Rome.
The hostile parties of Colonna and Orsini then join to destroy the
hated plebeian. In the midst of the festivity in the Capitol, Orsini
makes an attempt to murder Rienzi, but the latter wears a shirt of mail
under his garments and besides he is warned by Adriano, who has
overheard the conspiracy. The whole plot fails and the nobles who have
taken part in it are unanimously condemned to death. But Adriano full
of remorse on account of his treason against his own father, implores
Rienzi to save their lives, and as Irene joins her prayers to those of
her lover, the culprits are pardoned and obliged to renew their oath of
fidelity. From this time on Rienzi's star begins to pale. The
nobles do not adhere to their oath; in the third act they again give
battle, and though Rienzi is again victorious, it is only at the cost
of severe sacrifices. The nobles are slain, and now Adriano, who had
in vain begged for peace, turns against Rienzi.
In the fourth act Adriano denounces him as a traitor; the people easily
misled, begin to mistrust him, and when even the church, which has
assisted him up to this time anathematises him on account of his last
bloody deed, all desert him. Irene alone clings to her brother and
repulses her lover scornfully, when he tries to take her from Rienzi's
side. Both brother and sister retire into the Capitol, where Adriano
once more vainly implores Irene to fly with him. For the last time
Rienzi attempts to reassert his power, but his words are drowned in the
general uproar. They are greeted by a hail of stones, the Capitol is
set on fire, and they perish like heroes in the flames, through which
Adriano makes his way at the last moment and thus finds a common grave
with his bride and her brother, the last of the Tribunes.
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