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the Last of the Tribunes
(German title: Rienzi, der Letze der Tribunen)
An Opera by Richard Wagner

Opera in five acts. Words and music my Wagner. Produced, Dresden, October 20, 1842. London, Her Majesty’s Theatre, April 16, 1869. New York, Academy of Music, 1878, with Charles R. Adams, as Rienzi, Pappenheim as Adriano; Metropolitan Opera House, February 5, 1886, with Sylva as Rienzi, Lehmann as Irene, Brandt as Adriano, Fischer as Colonna.


COLA RIENZI, Roman Tribune and Papal Notary…….. Tenor
IRENE, his sister………………………………………… Soprano
STEFFANO COLONNA……………………………….. Bass
ADRIANO, his son……………………………………. Mezzo Soprano
PAOLO ORSINO……………………………………… Bass
RAIMONDO, Papal Legate…………………………… Bass
BARONCELLO, Roman citizen……………………… Tenor
CECCO DEL VECCHIO, Roman citizen……………. Bass
MESSENGER OF PEACE……………………………. Soprano
Ambassadors, Nobles, Priests, Monks, Soldiers, Messengers, and Populace in General.

Time: Middle of the Fourteenth century.
Place: Rome.

Orsino, a Roman patrician, attempts to abduct Irene, the sister of Rienzi, a papal notary, but is opposed at the critical moment by Colonna, another patrician. A fight ensues between the two factions, in the midst of which Adriano, the son of Colonna, who is in love with Irene, appears to defend her. A crowd is attracted by the tumult, and among others Rienzi comes upon the scene. Enraged at the insult offered his sister, and stirred on by Cardinal Raimondo, he urges the people to resist the outrages of the nobles. Adriano is impelled by his love for Irene to cast his lot with her brother. The nobles are overpowered, and appear at the capitol to swear allegiance to Rienzi, but during the festal proceedings Adriano warns him that the nobles have plotted to kill him. An attempt which Orsino makes upon him with a dagger is frustrated by a steel breastplate which Rienzi wears under his robe.

The nobles are seized and condemned to death, but on Adriano’s pleading they are spared. They, however, violate their oath of submission, and the people again under Rienzi’s leadership rise and exterminate them, Adriano having pleaded in vain. In the end the people prove fickle. The popular tide turns against Rienzi, especially in consequence of the report that he is in league with the German emperor, and intends to restore the Roman pontiff to power. As a festive procession is escorting him to church, Adriano rushes upon him with a drawn dagger, being infuriated at the slaughter of his family, but the blow is averted. Instead of the "Te Deum," however, with which Rienzi expected to be greeted on his entrance to the church, he hears the malediction and sees the ecclesiastical dignitaries placing the ban of excommunication against him upon the doors. Adriano hurries to Irene to warn her of her brother’s danger, and urges her to seek safety with him in flight. She, however, repels him, and seeks her brother, determined to die with him, if need be. She finds him at prayer in the capitol, but rejects his counsel to save herself with Adriano. Rienzi appeals to the infuriated populace which has gathered around the capitol, but they do not heed him. They fire the capitol with their torches, and hurl stones at Rienzi and Irene. As Adriano sees his beloved one and her brother doomed to death in the flames, he throws away his sword, rushes into the capitol, and perishes with them.

The overture of "Rienzi" gives a vivid idea of the action of the opera. Soon after the beginning there is heard the broad and stately melody of Rienzi"s prayer, and then the Rienzi Motive, a typical phrase, which is used with great effect later in the opera. It is followed in the overture by the lively melody heard in the concluding portion of the finale of the second act. These are the three most conspicuous portions of the overture, in which there are, however, numerous tumultuous passages reflecting the dramatic excitement which pervades many scenes.

The opening of the first act is full of animation, the orchestra depicting the tumult which prevails during the struggle between the nobles. Rienzi’s brief recitative is a masterpiece of declamatory music, and his call to arms is spirited. It is followed by a trio between Irene, Rienzi, and Adriano, and this in turn by a duet for the two last-named which is full of fire. The finale opens with a double chorus for the populace and the monks in the Lateran, accompanied by the organ. Then there is a broad and energetic appeal to the people from Rienzi, and amid the shouts of the populace and the ringing tones of the trumpets the act closes.

The insurrection of the people against the nobles is successful, and Rienzi in the second act, awaits at the capitol the patricians who are to pledge him their submission. The act opens with a broad and stately march, to which the messengers of peace enter. They sing a graceful chorus. This is followed by a chorus for the senators, and the nobles then tender their submission. There is a terzetto between Adriano, Colonna, and Orsino, in which the nobles express their contempt for the young patrician. The finale which then begins is highly spectacular. There is a march for the ambassadors, and a grand ballet, historical in character, and supposed to be symbolical of the triumphs of ancient Rome. In the midst of this occurs the assault upon Rienzi. Rienzi’s pardon of the nobles is conveyed in a broadly beautiful melody, and this is succeeded by the animated passage heard in the overture. With it are mingled the chants of the monks, the shouts of the people who are opposed to the cardinal and nobles, and the tolling of bells.

The third act opens tumultuously. The people have been aroused by fresh outrages on the part of the nobles. Rienzi’s emissaries disperse, after a furious chorus, to rouse the populace to vengeance. After they have left, Adriano has his great air, a number which can never fail of effect when sung with all the expression of which it is capable. The rest of the act is a grand accumulation of martial music or noise, whichever one chooses to call it, and includes the stupendous battle hymn, which is accompanied by the clashing of sword and shields, the ringing of bells, and all the tumult incidental to a riot. After Adriano has pleaded in vain with Reinzi for the nobles, and the various bands of armed citizens have dispersed, there is a duet between Adriano and Irene, in which Adriano takes farewell of her. The victorious populace appears and the act closes with their triumphant shouts. The fourth act is brief, and beyond the description given in the synopsis of the plot requires no further comment.

The fifth act opens with the beautiful prayer of Rienzi, already familiar from the overture. There is a tender duet between Rienzi and Irene, an impassioned aria for Rienzi, a duet for Irene and Adriano, and then the finale, which is chiefly choral.

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