[Met Performance] CID:4710
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Rienzi {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/5/1886.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
February 5, 1886
Metropolitan Opera Premiere


Cola Rienzi.............Eloi Sylva
Irene...................Lilli Lehmann
Paolo Orsini............Adolf Robinson
Adriano.................Marianne Brandt
Stefano Colonna.........Emil Fischer
Raimondo................Philip Lehmler
Baroncelli..............Otto Kemlitz
Cecco del Vecchio.......Emil Sänger
Messenger...............Ida Klein

Conductor...............Anton Seidl

Director................Mr. Van Hell

[The program states that "All remaining artists of the Company will sing in the Chorus in the Lateran Church."]

Rienzi received fifteen performances this season.

Review of Henry E. Krehbiel in the Tribune

The first of Richard Wagner's operas which obtained a foot-hold on the stage was brought forward with much display on the stage, with such a clash and clatter of drums and bells, of short-swords and shields, and such a clangor of brazen trumpets as never resounded in an American theatre before. The opera was new to the Metropolitan list, but not to the local record. It was performed, though under discouraging circumstances, at the Academy of Music on March. 4, 1878, by a German opera company headed by Madame Eugenia Pappenheim and Charles R. Adams. That it failed to win admiration then and was permitted to slumber undisturbed for nearly a decade was no loss to the name and fame of Wagner, nor a serious deprivation to the New York public. This, we are sure, the sincerest admirers of the master spirit of this century in the department of dramatic composition will gladly concede. Its revival was not in the line of the loftiest endeavors of the Metropolitan management, though it helped to swell the tide of prosperity which has supported German opera so buoyantly ever since the artistic devotion, wisdom and enterprise of Dr. Damrosch established it at the upper house. It did this because it is a brilliant and imposing spectacle; because its music is of the kind which appeals to the majority of the public even to-day ; because a great many people attended the representations out of curiosity, to study the growth of Wagner, to listen to the youthful utterances of one of whom it is known historically that he did not attain to artistic manhood until he had rebelled against the state of things under which for a time he sought to work out his artistic salvation. For those who were inclined seriously to apply such a standard of judgment to the work as is justified by existing circumstances, however, the chief pleasure that "Rienzi" afforded was that given to the eye. Musically almost as little honor was done the manes of Wagner by its revival as was done by the performance, a few days before, of "Das Liebesmahl der Apostel," a composition which dates back to the period when, "Rienzi" was still a novel sensation and was considered an artistic success. This is not said because "Rienzi" is in form an opera of the old style, with all the absurdities against which the mature Wagner fulminated his crushing criticisms, but because in this form it is unworthy of him. Compared with the operas which served as its model "La Muette de Portici," "William Tell," the noisy works of Spontini, the sensational pieces of Meyerbeer - "Rienzi" is unqualifiedly weak, and this in spite of a noble subject, and (as such things went at the time) a cleverly constructed and suggestive book. There is no musical vice which Wagner was so merciless in condemning in Meyerbeer's operas which does not exist in this score in an exaggerated form and with much less to extenuate it in the matter of fertility in invention and real musical beauty. Its sweets out-Italian the Italians; its noise puts the wildest extravagances of Meyerbeer to shame.

It is pleasant to turn from thoughts of the opera itself to the features of its representation. In "Rienzi" there are five acts, and, of course, five climaxes in which the populace, soldiery and nobility of Rome, the envoys of the Italian States, gladiators, dancing girls, and what not, disport themselves in operatic style, with such accompaniment of opulence in stage attire and paraphernalia as could be invented by an imaginative young artist filled with the image of Bulwer's novel, and bent on outdoing Scribe and Meyerbeer in the very home of their triumphs. For all these spectacular glories the management of the Metropolitan exhibited sympathetic appreciation. There was some use of scenery and properties which were associated in the public mind with other operas, but the pictures, as they presented themselves in their totality, were new in composition, vivid in color, varied in detail, and frequently suggestive of the veritable scenes as they have been made familiar by painter and photographer. The first act showed a picture of the Lateran, which was agreeable to the eye until the doors were thrown open, when a disparity between the external and internal dimensions and style of architecture disturbed the illusion. More successful was the view in the second act, when a prospect from a great chamber in the capitol showed an excellent painting of the castle of St. Angelo. The opera has a close like "Le Prophète," which, as the story goes, was constructed on the model of " Rienzi," - the hero and heroine go down to death in a conflagration. This scene was a great improvement on the one that had done service in Meyerbeer's opera, and was thoroughly effective. The ballet, of extravagant proportions, reached its climax when a mimic gladiatorial combat took place on a platform of shields held above their heads by a body of soldiery. The best talent of the company (all of it, in fact, since the artists who were not in the cast sang in the choir of the Lateran Church), was employed in the representation. Of the individuals the guerdon for excellence in singing easily belonged to Fräulein Lehmann, and it was a pleasure that we do not always have in opera, that the allusions to the beauty of Irene in the first act did not in this case, have to be taken on the lucus a non lucendo principle. Fräulein Lehmann was as lovely in appearance as her voice was charming. Her role, however, was not so striking as that of Adriano, assigned to Fräulein Brandt, and which received a powerfully dramatic interpretation at that experienced and intelligent artist's hands. The heroic side of Rienzi's character was well brought out in the bearing and singing of M. Sylva. To add to the pomp and circumstance of the allegorical ballet a company of German turners was called on to play the part of gladiators. The opera was received with frequent rounds of applause, but not with great enthusiasm. At the end of each act the principal performers were recalled, and after the second Herr Seidl had to come forward to receive the admiring plaudits of the audience.

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