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Hearty and high-volume: Wagnerians get to belt out robust tunes
WAGNER'S first successful opera, Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribunen (Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes) had not been performed in Australia until now. On Sunday evening Melbourne Opera successfully mounted an impressive concert version at its home, the Athenaeum Theatre.
The original manuscript, presented to Adolf Hitler at his request as a 50th birthday present, was lost in his Berlin bunker. The original performing version was lost in the Dresden bombing conflagrations. Subsequent performances have had to rely on secondary sources and skilled editing.
Much has been made of the more than six-hour duration of Wagner's original. Wagner was aware that Rienzi was too long and undertook several edits, of which Sunday evening's performance duration was mercifully one. This is opera in the tradition of his champion Meyerbeer's grand operas; so much so that Wagner's contemporary Hans von Bulow had a swipe at him by characterising it as "Meyerbeer's best opera".
The Athenaeum Theatre's excellent acoustic coupled with a judiciously cast roster of principal singers and large and authoritative mixed chorus, offered a torrent of orchestral playing and singing, little of it seemingly below forte level. This was seriously can-belto opera, taking many of its musical cues from the powerful overture with its reference to the prayer for Rienzi at the beginning of the final act and a deliciously vulgar "Galloping Major" military march towards its end.
Wagner endlessly repeated his best tunes and throughout the opera peppered-in leitmotivs that he later recycled into subsequent operas including Das Rheingold, Siegfried and Tannhauser.
Jason Wasley in the title role gave a great performance. His authoritative, true tenor effortlessly tackled notes even at the top of the staff. He was superbly supported by sopranos Rosamund Illing and Joanna Cole as Adriano Colonna, son of the head of the Colonna family and Rienzi's sister, Irene, respectively.
Roger Howell's Cecco del Vecchio, a Roman citizen received a dignified performance by the veteran baritone, while the other five soloists - Sam Sakker, Matthew Thomas, Adrian Tamburini, Manfred Pohlenz, with soprano Anna-Louise Cole - provided strong, even support.
The company's head of music and chorus master, Raymond Lawrence, drew his extensive chorus together superbly for what was a huge night-long sing. Resident conductor Greg Hocking's almost 60-strong orchestra provided unflagging support.