I was hoping the National Philharmonic's presentation of Wagner's Rienzi this past Saturday would have signaled the end of my Rienzi virginity, but due to circumstances beyond my control I was only able to see the second half. Add to this the fact that the deeply (and wisely) cut score for this concert staging basically constituted a highlights show, and, well, I think I can only claim second base.
Rienzi is perhaps best understood as what would happen if you took Tannhauser and subjected it to the Hollywood producers that give notes on stuff like Fast and Furious 7. There are really a huge variety of interesting musical ideas, and lots of delightfully recognizable Wagnerisms, but any breathing room in the drama has been rigorously excised in favor of nonstop grand opera thrill ride action, an event-heavy plot, and stock characters that leave little to the imagination.
But music certainly worth hearing, especially with the compelling forces marshaled by National Philharmonic chief Piotr Gajewski. The big draw of the evening was Issachah Savage in the title role, who I think its fair to call a DMV favorite, but has also recently appeared in things like the Goerke Toronto Walkures last year. His big irresistible tenor fits beautifully in the Lohengrin/Walther/etc Wagner parts, with enough heft to impress but still sweet and ringing throughout. Rienzi's big 11 o'clock number in the Fifth Act, which recalls the familiar motif of the overture was a gorgeous showcase for his sound and was met with appropriately thunderous applause. Here's his Mein Lieber Schwan. Oh and a little big of his great sounding Bacchus here. You know you want more.
Also notable were Rienzi's ladies--Mary Ann Stewart gave a passionate account of heldentrouseren role Adriano, while Eudora Brown impressed as Rienzi's sister, Irene. They cut that slightly creepy "Shades of Walsungen" scene in the Fifth Act with Rienzi (again, wisely), so by missing the first half I probably missed a lot of the Irene stuff that remained, but thankfully got to hear her soaring contributions in the latter half ensembles. Gajewski led a rollicking account from the Philharmonic and assembled choral forces, delivering what can only be called a crowd-pleaser--something I'll wager Rienzi is not often accused of.