Rienzi, der letzte der Tribunen
by Richard Wagner
Grand Tragic Opera in Five Acts
after the novel
Cola di Rienzi
by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
Rome in the fourteenth century.
A street at night, with the Lateran Church in the
background. Paolo Orsini is trying to abduct Irene,
Rienzi's sister. She screams for help, and Adriano,
who is in love with her, defends her. Adriano is the
son of Steffano Colonna, the head of another very
influential family of Rome. A crowd assembles, and a
brawl ensues, with the people choosing sides for
either Colonna or Orsini. Rienzi enters imperiously,
squelching the uprising by his very appearance, and
declares his intent to unite Rome and lead it to
Scene 2: Rienzi embraces Irene, and expresses to
Adriano his amazement that a member of the Colonna
family has saved his sister, asking Adriano where his
loyalties really lie. Adriano wants to atone for his
family, one of whom murdered Rienzi's brother. His
feelings, though, are mixed, and he is troubled by
Rienzi's plans. Rienzi insists that under his
leadership the Romans can become truly noble and free,
but Adriano fears he is leading the Roman people to
ruin. Though he too wishes to uphold the law, Adriano
warns Rienzi that his plans are too bold and will end
in bloodshed. However, despite his reservations, he
pledges his further support. Rienzi entrusts Irene to
his protection, and leaves.
Alone together, Adriano and Irene prophetically
declare that their love will remain steadfast, even if
the world around them should crumble disastrously.
Adriano expresses his trepidations, and predicts
Rienzi's downfall, foretelling that the people will
betray him, and the nobles will punish him for being
too bold. The scene ends with the sound of offstage
Scene 4: A herald enters. Dawn has arrived. An
organ sounds inside the church, and the public rushes
onstage. Rienzi appears in full armor before the
people, who fall to their knees. He is accompanied by
Raimondo, the papal legate. The portals of the
Lateran Church open, and the people greet him with
wild enthusiasm. Rienzi proclaims that as protector
of Rome he will uphold freedom and law. The populace
greets Rienzi joyously as their hero. The people hail
him as the new tribune who will liberate them, and
swear that they will remain loyal to him.
A hall in the Capitol. Rienzi enters, magnificently
clad, followed by the senators, among them Baroncelli
and Cecco. Messengers bring Rienzi news of their
travels, and they report that the Roman lands are
peaceful and free. Colonna, Orsini, the senators, and
the nobles pay homage to their new tribune. Rienzi
insists that he is not concerned with his own glory,
but rather, that he will free Rome and uphold the law.
He leaves with the senators.
Orsini and Colonna are outraged at Rienzi's arrogance,
and as they talk, the nobles start listening in. The
people idolize Rienzi, whom he has captivated. He is
a demagogue, they say, who holds the people in his
charismatic spell. Though Rienzi is a mere plebeian,
he has grasped enormous power, and Orsini and Colonna
refuse to tolerate this. They find his climb to fame
somehow insulting, and also potentially dangerous, as
the masses are now armed. The nobles, headed by
Orsini and Colonna, therefore plot against Rienzi, and
devise a murderous scheme for the imminent feast.
Adriano enters and demands to know their intentions.
They tell Adriano their plans to assassinate Rienzi
that day. Though in confusion over his divided
loyalties, Adriano vows to stand by Rienzi in defiance
of his own family.
Ceremonial pomp. A banquet has been prepared. Rienzi
greets nobles and diplomats from all parts of Italy.
Adriano softly warns Rienzi that he is about to be
betrayed. A performance begins, a play, pantomime,
and ballet: Brutus avenges the death of Lucretia and
frees Rome from the tyranny of Tarquinius. Meanwhile,
Orsini, who has stolen closer to Rienzi during the
performance, tries to stab him, but Rienzi reveals
that he is protected by armor. Tumult ensues. Rienzi
pardons him, despite the warnings of his nobles, who
lament the blindness of his mercy.
A square in Rome. The scene depicts ruins, decrepit
columns. Bells sound. Wild, unruly crowds fill the
scene. They seek Rienzi. The nobles have fled the
city. Rienzi appears and promises to guard the
freedom of Rome, thereby rousing the people to war.
The crowds appeal to Rienzi and with cries of homage
and subservience, express their trust in him and their
intent to follow him.
Adriano enters; he is dejected, horrified, and in
despair over his divided loyalties. He hears, sounds
of war, and chaos intrudes into his solitude. The
people enter armed, and Adriano rushes to bring about
a reconciliation between his family and that of
Hymns of war resound, Rienzi goes to battle,
surrounded by monks and the populace, and urges the
people on to protect freedom and the law. Adriano
implores Rienzi to desist, but Rienzi refuses to heed
him. Adriano is left with Irene; they lament their
imminent parting. Adriano tells Irene that Rienzi is
murdering his people. Warriors enter, and Rienzi
embraces Irene in farewell. To the horror of all, the
body of Steffano Colonna is brought into view, and
then other corpses as well. Adriano curses Rienzi and
the fate that will forever part him and Irene.
Despite the tumult, Rienzi departs triumphantly.
In a street before the Lateran church, at night, in a
secret meeting Baroncelli informs other citizens, all
in disguise, that the German diplomats have left Rome
forever. Rienzi is at odds with the princes of
Germany over the choice of the Roman Emperor. The
Cardinal, Baroncelli informs them, has also departed,
and therefore Colonna had turned to the Pope and
promised to use his power to defend the Church.
Baroncelli feels that Rienzi pardoned Colonna for the
sole purpose of gaining the support of the nobles, and
thus considers Rienzi a traitor of the people.
Adriano enters and identifies himself. He declares
Rienzi unworthy of the power that he has amassed, and
vows to have vengeance. A feast is being prepared by
Rienzi, to celebrate his victory. Rienzi approaches
in full glory.
A ceremony is beginning. The procession nears, Rienzi
with Irene. The nobles feign obeisance. As Rienzi
ascends the steps to the church, he is stopped by the
conspirators, who bar his entrance to the church.
Raimondo curses him and all who are true to him. The
chanting of monks can be heard from within the church.
Rienzi shames them by appeals to their patriotism,
and urges them to trust in him. Feigning sincerity,
they hypocritically hail him as their tribune. Rienzi
is taken aback when he hears the TeDeum from the
church, and all shudder. Raimondo appears and bars
Rienzi's entrance to the church. The doors of the
church slam shut with a crash, and on them a papal
bull is nailed banning Rienzi. Adriano tells Irene
that Rienzi and all who follow him are cursed.
Adriano urges Irene to run away with him, but she
remains with Rienzi; Adriano flees quickly. Rienzi,
however, remains engrossed in his plans to lead Rome
In a hall of the Capitol, Rienzi prays to God to grant
him the strength to unite Rome and finish his
Irene enters, embraces Rienzi, who tells of his dreams
for Rome, his bride. Though she loves Adriano, whom
Rienzi demands she renounce, Irene vows to stand by
her brother. Rienzi departs.
Adriano sneaks in, disguised. Adriano reminds her of
his love, and tells of his intent to betray Rienzi. He
warns her that Rienzi is mad, and if she follows him,
then she is, too.
Scene 4: A square before the Capitol. Crowds storm in
violently bearing torches and screaming,to honor the
dictum of the Church. The populace is revolting
against Rienzi, who appears on the balcony in full
armor and orders peace. The people cry out that he
should be stoned. They refuse to recognize his former
glory, even though he appeals to his past leadership
of Rome to freedom and grandeur. Baroncelli cautions
the crowd not to be mesmerized by Rienzi any longer.
The crowd sets the Capitol on fire. As Rienzi
exclaims that the Romans are disgraceful and unworthy
of their heritage, the flames engulf the Capitol.
Embracing each other, Rienzi and Irene perish in the
conflagration. The Capitol collapses, also burying
Adriano in the rubble.
synopsis © 2001 by
Monday, 08-Dec-2003 21:40:47 PST