Rienzi in Beantown
Yesterday afternoon and evening, Gil Rose led his new opera company, Odyssey Opera, in as strong a case as can possibly be made both for Wagner's sensational "Rienzi" and for concert opera, generally.
I've long loved "Rienzi," but gave up hopes of ever hearing a live one, so yesterday's performance at Jordan Hall was one not to be missed. A minute into the overture, where the theme of Rienzi's prayer enters I already was misting up. This music always does this to me ... I'm one who believe that simple theme to be one of the most beautiful melodies ever penned by mortal man.
Rose had at his disposal, massive forces and had them under control throughout a long, two-part day (beginning at 3, with a two hour dinner break then resuming again at 7:30). The orchestral playing was spot on, with all the Wagnerian effects one could desire, including a woman's chorus (Boston's Lorelei Ensemble) singing from the balcony. For the glorious third act, two separate brass choirs at balcony's rear provided thrilling antiphonal surround sound effects, with separate batteries of snares in the corners, making the entire musical experience of the breathtaking kind. Volume-wise, with chorus, ensembles, band and brass choirs all going full tilt, I'm hard pressed to recall a as aurally thrilling experience in my recent memory.
In the title role, Lithuanian tenor, Kristian Benedikt had a nice, burnished, heroic edge, though, particularly early on, there was less volume to his sound than one may have wanted. During the introduction to the prayer in Act 5, Benedikt removed the gold sash Rienzi had worn most of the night, folded it and cast his eyes heavenward - a marvelous, theatrical touch followed by a imploring, heartfelt performance of that most exquisite aria, earning Mr. Benedikt a nice, deserved ovation.
Elisabete Matos, as Irene, began with some stridency to the tone, but, by Act 2 had warmed up tossing out high notes that thrilled - enormous and ensemble dominating. Irene's scenes, particularly with Stephano, had real genuine melodrama and the two women's voices matched each other in the power department. How fortunate our Stephano was Margaret Jane Wray who produced the most consistently exciting singing of the day. With the most to sing, Wagner could easily have renamed his opera "Stephano."
Robert Honeysucker poured out warm, smooth-as-silk sound as Cecco del Vecchio. Excellent singing also from Ethan Bremner, Stephen Salters, Kristopher Irmiter, Christina English, David Kravitz (who made one wish Orsini was a longer role) and Frank Kelley.
It was a night of triumph for Odyssey Opera's - and Rienzi's - debut in Boston, long ovations greeted each of the singers - one of the evening's longest and loudest reserved for the company's marvelous chorus.
Wagner's too-little heard early opera was in fine hands and this was definitely an afternoon - and an evening - to remember.