News / Arts & Entertainment

Russia's New Mariinsky Theater Woos Doubters

Guests take their seats for a "pre-premiere" performance, put on for veterans, senior employees of the theater and other special guests, in the new Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, May 1, 2013.
Guests take their seats for a "pre-premiere" performance, put on for veterans, senior employees of the theater and other special guests, in the new Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, May 1, 2013.
Reuters
— Enlisting the drama of Prokofiev and the elegance of Tchaikovsky, St. Petersburg's new Mariinsky theater staged a gala opening on Thursday designed to silence critics of the starkly modernist building erected in the heart of Russia's imperial capital.

The $700-million glass and limestone building, which critics have dubbed the "Mariinsky mall," glowed in the night sky, its glass and metal walkways humming with excited voices as the select crowd of 2,000 found their seats.

Just opposite, across a canal, the 19th century original opera house, one of the great showcases of Russian culture which became home to the Kirov opera and ballet companies in Soviet times, stood silent for the evening.

"We need breath life into the theater. We want it to live, so that people are attracted and can feel the charm of modern technology. Then it will shine in all its glory," President Vladimir Putin told the guests, who included leading Russian businessmen.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (front R) and Mariinsky Theater's artistic director Valery Gergiev (front L) visit the new stage of the theater before the Grand gala concert in St. Petersburg, May 2, 2013.Russian President Vladimir Putin (front R) and Mariinsky Theater's artistic director Valery Gergiev (front L) visit the new stage of the theater before the Grand gala concert in St. Petersburg, May 2, 2013.
x
Russian President Vladimir Putin (front R) and Mariinsky Theater's artistic director Valery Gergiev (front L) visit the new stage of the theater before the Grand gala concert in St. Petersburg, May 2, 2013.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (front R) and Mariinsky Theater's artistic director Valery Gergiev (front L) visit the new stage of the theater before the Grand gala concert in St. Petersburg, May 2, 2013.
Calling the Mariinsky by its affectionate short name Mariinka, Putin said the theater had always preserved the best traditions of the Russian arts, never losing "its shine."

"760 performances a year! And each one is world class. No artistic team in the world does that." Putin praised Valery Gergiev, director of the Mariinsky and regarded by many as the greatest living orchestral conductor, for pursuing a project that had been conceived just before Russia's financial crash of 1998.

"In 2003, Gergiev raised the issue again and a new project arose," Putin said, referring to a decision made after he became president in 2000.

The Mariinsky II is one of several grand projects sponsored by Putin intended to show what Russia can achieve, most notably the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

See Inside

Gergiev, whose 60th birthday coincided with the gala, had been criticized for commissioning a sleek, modern building which some say sits awkwardly among its pastel-colored 19th-century neighbors.

A view of the new Mariinsky Theatre (R) facing the original theater across a canal in St. Petersburg, April 30, 2013.A view of the new Mariinsky Theatre (R) facing the original theater across a canal in St. Petersburg, April 30, 2013.
x
A view of the new Mariinsky Theatre (R) facing the original theater across a canal in St. Petersburg, April 30, 2013.
A view of the new Mariinsky Theatre (R) facing the original theater across a canal in St. Petersburg, April 30, 2013.
But in the end only two people protested outside. One of them, a woman, held a banner mocking Gergiev's recent "Hero of Labor" award received from Putin on Wednesday, suggesting the conductor should either pull down the building or hand back the medal.

The conductor, a loyal ally of Putin, had shrugged off the criticism, saying the Mariinsky needed a new stage and state-of-the-art technology to produce the kind of theater people expected to see today.

"People asked why do we need new architecture? Why does St. Petersburg need a new opera house? I think the best way to answer those questions is simply to let people come in,'' he told a news conference.

Many guests were impressed. Light bounced off wall panels made of Italian onyx that stretch several stories high and the sound was excellent.

"I like the theater and I liked the concert. It's a contemporary theater with great potential," said former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin. "I love theaters and have been in many great theaters in different corners of the world. I think it is worthy of becoming one of them."

The simple light wood of the balconies and aisles was a world away from the original Mariinsky Theater, which was sumptuously decorated in gold and red. Only the VIP box in the Mariinsky II has a slight nod to extravagance - a modern chandelier to make prominent guests feel at home.

The gala opened with a dramatic excerpt from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" ballet and included the coronation scene from Mussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov, when the vast stage swarmed with peasants.

Ulyana Lopatkina and Viktor Baranov danced "Pavlova and Cecchetti" to Tchaikovsky and Placido Domingo sang a Wagner aria in front of an audience including Putin allies Alisher Usmanov, Russia's richest man, and railways chief Vladimir Yakunin.

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Acclaimed jazz saxophonist Tia Fuller has made a name for herself appearing with such high-profile artists as Beyonce, Esperanza Spalding, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Tia and her quartet performed music from her CD “Angelic Warrior” on our latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."