Mariinsky II Finally Opens its Doors

Mariinsky II Finally Opens its Doors

Some insiders say the embarrassing delay was due to a lack of money.

Published: April 30, 2013 (Issue # 1757)

St. Petersburg’s new concert hall, the long-anticipated and much-awaited Mariinsky II, will have its official inauguration on Thursday with a gala performance featuring some of the world’s finest musical talent, including tenor Placido Domingo, violinist Leonidas Kavakos, pianist Denis Matsuev, bass Rene Pape, soprano Anna Netrebko and dancer Diana Vishneva.

Designed by the Canadian agency DiamondSchmitt Architects, the project, whose total cost is estimated at 19.1 billion rubles ($161.7 million), has been funded by the Russian federal government.

While the venue’s exterior has already undergone a serious amount of criticism for its lack of groundbreaking architectural ideas, expectations are high for the artistic content that will soon be presented within the walls of Mariinsky II. A series of acoustic tests yielded encouraging results that eased the pressure on the Mariinsky’s artistic director Valery Gergiev, as the date of the opening nears. Technically, the capabilities of the new hall are expected to allow the productions by the company to achieve new heights in artistry.

Discussions about a second stage for the Mariinsky began almost ten years ago. Gergiev, who celebbrates his 60th birthday on May 2, says the technical capabilities of the historic theater, built in 1860 to a design by the Italian architect Albert Cavos, do not match the troupe’s artistic potential. The Mariinsky is forced to close for several days at a time to erect sets for certain performances, while many foreign directors working with the company have to adjust their bold designs to the modest capacities of the Mariinsky stage.

The Mariinsky II saga has been dragging on since 2003, when prominent French architect Dominique Perrault won a prestigious international competition to design the new theater. In 2004, after painstaking bureaucratic scrutiny, the Culture Ministry finally signed a contract with the French architect to use his design for a state-of-the-art building. Despite the imminent deadlines, it soon became apparent that local government officials were in no rush to get things started.

Some insiders say this embarrassing procrastination was due to a lack of money. In the year following the competition, the projected cost of the building had increased from $100 million to $244 million.

Perrault’s design included an asymmetrical, multifaceted golden metal structure built around the new theater building. The architect said that he saw himself as a fashion designer, with plans to wrap a light, transparent golden tunic around a black marble facade. The building was intended to harmonize with the existing theater building, with a bridge over the Kryukov Canal connecting the two.

Some local residents — many of them members of the city’s cultural community — never accepted the French project, branding the design as too revolutionary or lacking in taste. One of the least offensive nicknames applied to the new building was “the golden potato.” Critics said Perrault’s design was too elaborate and didn’t integrate with the classical lines of the neighborhood.

Following the failure of Perrault’s vision to find support, in 2009 the Russian government chose to give the contract to DiamondSchmitt Architects, which in turn made the antithesis of the Perrault’s design that now bears the nicknames “warehouse” and “retail center.”

According to Gergiev, several productions will have to be adapted or restaged for the Mariinsky II. Indeed, new titles will appear that will be designed specifically for the new stage, with its vast technical capabilities. The first of them will be Vasily Barkhatov’s take on Dvorac’s “Rusalka,” which premiers on May 24 at the opening of the International Stars of the White Nights Festival.

At least one world premiere is expected to grace the new stage in the coming months. Renowned Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin, a darling of the Mariinsky theater whose work features prominently in the repertoire, from opera to ballet to orchestral pieces, will present the premiere of his new opera “Lefty,” inspired by Nikolai Leskov’s 19th-century tale about the cross-eyed craftsman who made steel horseshoes small enough to fit a flea.

Cutting-edge choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, who is currently artist-in-residence at the American Ballet Theater in New York, will also stage new ballets for Mariinsky II, to be premiered later this year.

Gergiev stressed that the new venue will have a strong focus on a new series of concerts and performances for children and student audiences. The maestro sees accessible shows and education-focused concerts as part of his mission of bringing the musical arts closer to city residents, especially those with evolving tastes and a heightened interest in the arts.

The company, from singers and dancers to musicians and technical workers, is thrilled about what it calls the new era of the Mariinsky: a vast range of technical capacities on the new stage that look set to greatly complement the theater’s creative potential.

On May 1, the day before the official opening, Mariinsky II will hold a “thank you” concert for veterans of the local classical music scene, retirees who worked in various capacities for local theaters, who will enjoy an opera and ballet gala.

The festivities will continue after the inauguration. On May 3 soprano Anna Netrebko will star the title role of Tchaikovsky’s opera “Iolanta,” followed by a ballet gala featuring the Mariinsky’s star dancers Yekaterina Kondaurova, Ulyana Lopatkina, Vladimir Shklyarov and Danila Korsuntsev — both at the new venue. Also on May 3 Gergiev will conduct a program of symphony music at the Mariinsky Concert Hall with violinists Vadim Repin and Leonidas Kavakos, pianist Denis Matsuev and viola player Yury Bashmet.

On the following day, Placido Domingo and Maria Guleghina will appear on the new stage in Verdi’s opera “Nabucco,” which will also be conducted by Gergiev.

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