Gergiev: New Mariinsky theater to bring fame to new generation of composers

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mariinsky celebrates 150 years, looks to future

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — The Mariinsky Theater has hosted premieres of many of the world’s most famous operas, including works by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. As the sea-green-and-cream structure marked its 150th anniversary on Friday, artistic director Valery Gergiev says a new building will help the St. Petersburg theater be an artistic groundbreaker once again.

After years of delays and plan changes, the Mariinsky appears on track to open a second stage in a new building nearby in 2012. Gergiev is already aiming his restless ambition toward it.

The Mariinsky brought the world the premieres of Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov,” Tchaikovsky’s “The Queen of Spades,” Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” and other notable works. Its ballet company has included Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolph Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Relentless touring by the opera and ballet companies — known as the Kirov companies on the road — brought the Mariinsky to the world. Gergiev has added to its renown through his intense array of foreign conducting gigs, including being principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and principal guest conductor at the Metropolitan Opera for a decade.

Now he wants to bring the world to the Mariinsky.

With the new building “we’ll have more world premieres, more foreign companies invited, more visitors,” he said in an interview this week.

“The current building gave a great chance to shine to young Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, as well as to Wagner, Verdi and Berlioz,” he said. “It will be great if in five to seven years modern living composers will get the same fame thanks to the new building.”

Although the old building is an architectural treasure, it’s been inadequate for elaborate modern productions. “It’s uncomfortable to say, but sometimes we even have to keep stage scenery outside” because there’s not room for it elsewhere, Gergiev said.

It also has an air of elitism that puts off modern young people, said Jack Diamond, the Canadian architect who designed the new theater, located across the Kryukov Canal from the original. Diamond’s design includes transparent facades on the corners to make the new building more welcoming.

“Old opera houses were blank, you had to go through the wall, and there was a mystique,” he told The Associated Press. “But now, especially with youth … it’s important for them to see people in jeans or dressed up or having a party in such places. It removes the mystique so the transparency of the building gives people the confidence to go in.”

The theater celebrated the anniversary with a gala Friday evening show, including segments from the ballets “Swan Lake” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” featuring ballerinas Uliana Lopatkina and Diana Vishnyova. The audience included Maya Plisetskaya, the Bolshoi ballerina who riveted world audiences in the 1950s and 1960s.

‘Life would be impossible without the Mariinsky,” said another audience member, St. Petersburg State University president Lyudmila Verbitskaya.

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