Mariinsky II Opens with All-Star Cast
Published: May 8, 2013 (Issue # 1758)
Galina Stolyarova / SPT
The entire cast of the opening gala appeared onstage in a dispay of artistic might.
A star-studded gala marked the opening of the widely discussed and much- anticipated new opera house of St. Petersburg’s famed Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater on Thursday.
The inauguration of one of the world’s largest opera venues featured some of the world’s most celebrated stars, including tenor Placido Domingo, renowned pianist Denis Matsuev, opera singers René Pape and Anna Netrebko, and dancers Uliana Lopatkina and Diana Vishneva.
Russian president Vladimir Putin opened the ceremony, congratulating Valery Gergiev, the Mariinsky’s pioneering artistic director and conductor, on his 60th birthday, which coincided with the theater’s opening.
During his speech, Putin recapped the problematic story of the theater’s construction and attributed the completion of the project to the “inexhaustible energy” of Gergiev, who just the previous day was awarded Russia’s newly-minted title of Hero of Labor of the Russian Federation.
Putin said that despite the disagreements over the merits of the new theater’s exterior, it was “obvious that its interior space meets the highest technical world standards.”
The gala performance was designed to display the theater’s state-of-the-art technical and acoustic merits, with the stage moving in all possible directions to provide a seamless transition between the different ballet, opera and musical numbers the troupe performed at the opening ceremony.
Gergiev was in fine form, putting the Mariinsky orchestra through its paces by showcasing some of its most spectacular pieces. At one point, he stepped from the elevated orchestra pit to the stage, where he hugged Russian opera diva Anna Netrebko in thanks after her show-stopping solo performance of the legendary cavatina from Verdi’s “Lady Macbeth.”
The audience gave the performance a standing ovation before joining the Mariinsky’s artistic staff (who gathered on the stage for the final bow) in singing Happy Birthday to a surprised Gergiev.
Among the VIP guests invited to the gala were German Gref, head of Russia’s Sberbank and former Russian finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, who Gergiev referred to as friends at a news briefing earlier in the day. He continued by saying that both men, who were born in St. Petersburg, had always loved the Mariinsky and were there to help the theater, even in the most difficult of times. Other Russian celebrities in attendance included Russian ballet star Maya Plisetskaya, former Russian Olympic figure skating champion Tatyana Navka, and her coach, Tatyana Tarasova.
Designed by the Canadian firm Diamond Schmitt Architects, the new seven-story theater took eight years to be realized at a cost of around 22 billion rubles ($700 million).
The exterior of the new venue has received much public criticism for being startlingly severe for this historical part of the city and has been damned by some critics as looking like a “shopping mall.” However, despite these criticisms, the theater is now one of the most technically advanced in the world.
“Now I believe we have one of the best contemporary venues for opera in the world,” Gergiev told journalists during the opening.
The theater offers stage technicians the ability to assemble the set for one performance as they dismantle the set from a second while still allowing a third show to take place on the stage. There are also rehearsal halls for ballet, opera, choir and orchestra. The orchestra pit can accommodate 120 musicians and is made of three movable platforms that can go up and down according to the requirements of the orchestra. All of the movement and lighting for the new stage is computer operated.
However, one of the greatest advantages of the new stage is its unparalleled acoustics, experts say.
“Practically every one of the theater’s 2,000 seats has the same acoustic value, which is very rare for opera houses. We really never had an acoustic venue like this new concert hall,” said Gergiev.
He added that another unique advantage of the new theater is that “no matter where you are in the audience, you can see the entire stage.”
In an interview with The St. Petersburg Times a few days before the opening, Gergiev said that he “has never regretted becoming a musician” and was thankful to his parents for respecting his choice.
“My father was a military man who had fought in World War II. I gather he might probably have wanted to see me become an officer, but he realized music was my future,” Gergiev said. He was also never teased by other boys for pursing music in his childhood. Instead everyone appreciated his folder of sheet music, which he often used for marking up improvised soccer goals during games in the courtyard of the building where he grew up.
“My parents were surprised that almost every week they had to buy me a new folder, but I never told them how it got ruined. Meanwhile, my passion for soccer hasn’t faded and even now I sometimes fly to different destinations to see a soccer game of interest,” Gergiev said.