Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribunen (Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes), by Richard Wagner


Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes is an opera penned by Richard Wagner who also provided the libretto. It is an amazingly inspirational work and was based on real events that happened when Cola di Rienzo established the short-lived Roman Republic. The opera he based on these events illustrated the conflict of family honour, freedom and love.

Rienzi is a grosse tragische Oper in five acts. It is set in Rome sometime in the mid-14th century. It premiered on the 20th October 1842 in Dresden at the Hoftheatre.


Cola Rienzi, the papal notary (Tenor)

Irene, his sister (Soprano)

Steffano Colonna, the head of the Colonna family (Bass)

Adriano, his son (Mezzo-Soprano)

Paolo Orsini, head of the Orsini family (Bass)

Raimondo, papal legate (Bass)

Baroncelli and Cecco del Vecchio, Roman citizens (Tenor, Bass)

The Messenger of Peace (Soprano)

Herald (Tenor)

Roman nobles, envoys, priests, monks, soldiers and Roman citizens (the chorus)


Act I

On the street in Rome outside Rienzi’s house, the supporters of the Orsini family attempt to kidnap Rienzi’s sister, Irene. However, Adriano Colonna has fallen in love with Irene and rescues her. The two patrician families, Orisini and Colonna, meet up and due to their families’ feuds, they draw swords. Rienzi intervenes and the promise of violence is avoided. The Roman citizens praise Rienzi, calling him the liberator of Rome and then elect him as the people’s tribune.

Act II

In a great hall in Rome, the Roman nobles are planning to murder Rienzi. Rienzi has ordered a banquet in order to reconcile the nobles and have them swear an oath of unity and lawfulness. At the banquet, Orisini tries to stab Rienzi but he is wearing a breastplate and is saved. The citizens call for revenge but Rienzi shows mercy to Orsini.


At the square of the ancient Roman forum, Rienzi leads the armed citizens against the nobles. They have broken their oath. In the battle, both the leaders of the Orsini and Colonna families’ die and Adriano swears revenge.

Act IV

In front of the Lateran church Adriano inflames the citizens against Rienzi. As Rienzi and his sister are about to enter the church, the papal legate Raimondo curses him and declares that anyone following him is to be excommunicated. Rienzi becomes isolated and it is only his sister, Irene, who stays loyal to him. She rejects Adriano’s advances.

Act V

In the hall of the Capitol, Rienzi and Irene are saying goodbye to Rome and life. The angry mob outside sets fire to the capitol and Adriano tries to rescue his beloved Irene. The flaming building collapses and buries Adriano, Irene and Rienzi underneath.