03 May
Thu / 2012

The Gilded Dish: A Rienzi Blog
What’s in a Name?

This coming Saturday and Sunday, Houston Grand Opera Studio artists present the last of the 2011–2012 Rienzi Recital series. They will perform pieces by both Gerald Finzi and Richard Wagner in Rienzi’s intimate Gallery.

Rienzi has a special connection to Wagner. In the mid-19th century, the great German composer wrote an opera titled Rienzi, der Letze der Tibunen, or Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes. Wagner's Rienzi, which first premiered in the Dresden Opera House on October 20, 1842, soon became one of his most successful compositions. The opera was based on a book of the same title, published in 1835, penned by the English novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. Both works center on the Italian figure, Cola di Rienzi and his medieval Roman uprising. Di Rienzi condemned Rome’s aristocratic rulers in an attempt to restore Rome to its former greatness.

The MFAH house museum Rienzi is named after Rienzi Melville Johnston (what a name!), the grandfather of Harris Masterson III. It has been suggested that Johnston was named after the book, the opera, or both. What little evidence we have is based upon dates: Johnston was born in 1849, 7 years after the opera premiered and 14 years after the book was published. 

Guests visiting Rienzi have the opportunity to see a portrait of Rienzi Melville Johnston in the Living Room as well as a copy of the book, on view in the Library. Join us on Saturday or Sunday for HGO’s performances, and hear the composer that may—or may not—have inspired the name Rienzi.