Rienzi is the opera Wagner shouldn’t have written. He betrayed himself, for the only time in his career, by writing to please the Parisian public of the 1830s, which demanded immense ‘historical’ subjects, lots of scenery, vast dimensions and of course a ballet. When it was finally mounted in Dresden in 1842, Wagner had the biggest success of his career. Fortunately the opera fell from favour fairly soon, apart from the overture with its noble big tune, and an aria for the hero which also employs that tune.
There have been few recordings of Rienzi, and if you want to hear it I wouldn’t really suggest going for this CD. It has the advantage of being savagely cut, lasting only two and a half hours instead of four and a half. Whole scenes are cut, and there are snips all over the place. The story of a benevolent tribune brought low by his despicable colleagues and the contemptible mob is one that has had its appeal for some politicians (most notoriously Hitler), but there is little reason for anyone else to care.
This live performance has decent casting, with Peter Bronder in the title role. Though an excellent tenor, his voice isn’t quite suited to this heroic role. His enemy Adriano, a trouser role, is taken by mezzo-soprano Claudia Mahnke, whose diction is so vague that it is hard to follow the words. Which brings me to a probably fatal criticism for most people: the text is given in full, but in German only, with a short, bald plot summary; and translations of Rienzi are not easy to come by.