Wagner: Rienzi - Windgassen, Brivkalne, Traxel, Neidlinger; Von Matacic. Stuttgart 1957
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Viewing Rienzi next to the balance of Richard Wagner's cannon there can be no doubt that it comes nowhere near to the level of innovation and inspiration of his later works. Wagner himself would not let it be performed at Bayreuth and none other than Hans von Bülow cheekily declared it to be "Meyerbeer's best opera." However, unlike Die Feen and Das Liebesverbot this opera has never totally vanished from the collective operatic consciousness. Upon revisiting it, I found that once I divorced my expectations from the high level that Wagner established in his mature works I was able to derive enjoyment. There are certainly very exciting choral scenes and Wagner's sense of nationalism, although in this case Roman nationalism, is ever present. Wolfgang Windgassen does the best he can with the rather cardboard nature of the title character often relying on the beauty and line of his tone to distract us from the failings of the libretto. And he just about succeeds. The rest of the cast is sturdy. The sound is excellent.