Philipp Stölzl’s controversial 2010 production of Wagner’s early opera “Rienzi” presents the opera about a revolutionary leader in 14th century Rome undone by his lust for power as a Hitler-Mussolini parable. The sets resemble the Reich Chancellery and Hitler’s Berghof residence in the Bavarian Alps, Rienzi’s frequent addresses to the citizens of Rome are broadcasted as propaganda events and Leni Riefenstahl-style film called “The New Rome” is even projected before intermission. In later acts, much of the action unfolds in Hitler’s bunker.
In other words, Stölzl certainly has made much of the fact that “Rienzi” was the favorite opera of Hitler, who saw himself as a modern-day incarnation of the title character. Its catchy overture was frequently performed at Nazi Rallies.
Rienzi has all the trappings of French Grand Opéra and has facetiously been called both Meyerbeer’s best opera and Meyerbeer’s worst. In fact, Wagner’s stated intention for Rienzi was to “outdo all previous examples [of Grand Opéra] with sumptuous extravagance.”
Constructing an authoritative version of Rienzi has proved problematic in the absence of the original manuscript (which was owned by Hitler) or a printed score without cuts. This version lasts three hours, which is half the running time of the Dresden premiere of 1842.