Plain Mariinsky II Building Hides Dazzling Interior

Plain Mariinsky II Building Hides Dazzling Interior

Published: February 13, 2013 (Issue # 1746)


A raised bridge leads to the Tsar’s Box of the brand new Mariinsky II, which features wall panels made of Italian onyx (r).

The long-awaited second stage for the city’s world-renowned Mariinsky Theater is currently going through acoustic tests amid waves of public criticism of its exterior appearance.

While the company is enthusiastically planning new titles for its repertoire made possible by the new state-of-the-art stage, local preservationists lament that the new venue designed by the Canadian company Diamond Schmitt architects has failed to make a harmonious pairing to the historical venue with which it is connected by a bridge over the Kryukov Canal.

Mariinsky II appears to have a split identity. With austere exteriors that have been most recently nicknamed “the Mariinsky retail and entertainment center,” it dazzles with splendid precious interiors and impresses with its fine acoustics.

A panoramic internal bridge overlooking the vast inner halls of Mariinsky II and leading to the Tsar’s Box offers a stunning view over enormous shiny wall panels made entirely of Italian onyx. Oak was used to decorate the minimalist yet solid modern auditorium, which differs from the opulence of the historic theater across the canal. Setting foot inside Mariinsky II truly gives the impression of entering a temple of the arts.

The project, whose total cost is estimated at 19.1 billion rubles ($161.7 million), is being financed by the federal government.

“The first acoustic tests have shown that rehearsing here feels very natural,” said Valery Gergiev, the artistic director of the Mariinsky Theater, speaking to reporters after an acoustic test on Tuesday. “We should be able to play with ease and flair here.”

The performance during the acoustic check, which featured a handful of short orchestral works and operatic arias by Tchaikovsky, Wagner and Verdi, was attended by Nikolai Vinnichenko, the presidential representative in the Northwestern federal district.

“As a city resident, I am pleased that St. Petersburg is getting this marvelous hall with splendid designs and fabulous acoustics, and as an official I am satisfied to see that the project is now moving forward at a good pace, and we can be sure that it will open as expected,” Vinnichenko said.

Marat Oganesyan, head of the northwestern board for construction, renovation and restoration, said that work is now in its final stages at Mariinsky II.

“The workers are mounting three staircases in the foyers and are putting the last touches to the interiors,” Oganesyan said. “All the work will be completed by March 15, when we will proceed to applying for safety certificates from the inspection agencies.”

The Mariinsky is currently busy hiring staff to serve the new stage.

“Recruitment is certainly not easy, as this company — like any other significant troupe — has history, style, traditions and incredible numbers of nuances to be aware of,” Gergiev said. “Our approach is that we will hire capable, mostly young people who are able and willing to learn fast.”

Discussions about a second stage for the Mariinsky began almost ten years ago. Gergiev 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 has to close for several days 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’s stage.

The new venue will welcome its first audiences on May 1, when veterans of the local classical music scene will be treated to an opera and ballet gala. The next day will see the stage’s official opening.

“I want to emphasize that we will perform the same program for the veterans and for the guests of the official opening,” Gergiev said. “It is really important for us to make sure that this theater is accessible for ordinary locals, and — please take no offense — the main audiences to benefit from the opening of this hall will be children and young people, for whom we will design a wealth of programs.”

According to Gergiev, certain productions will be adapted or restaged for the Mariinsky II, and new titles that will be produced specifically for the new venue have already been established. One of them will be the world premiere of Rodion Shchedrin’s opera “Lefty,” loosely based on 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.

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