Russia's new Mariinsky theater divides St Petersburg

Wed May 1, 2013 4:39am EDT
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By Liza Dobkina

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - It has been variously described as a sleek piece of modernism or an ugly shopping center, but whatever Russians think of the exterior of St Petersburg's new Mariinsky Theatre, they will finally get to see inside the much-debated building at its grand opening on Thursday.

President Vladimir Putin will lead a select crowd of guests to the first performance at Mariinsky II, a 2,000-seat theater, which, at a cost of $700 million, ranks among the most expensive cultural projects ever built.

The new building stands near the 19th century Mariinsky Theatre, one of the great showcases of Russian culture and which became home to the opera and ballet companies renowned around the world under their Soviet-era name of Kirov.

But the new theater has divided opinion in Putin's home town, where critics have dubbed the glass-and-limestone building the "Mariinsky mall", incongruous among the other elegant 19th-century buildings in the Imperial capital and the ugly sister of its ornately gilded predecessor.

Valery Gergiev, head of the project and regarded by many as the greatest living orchestral conductor, has promoted the plan to build a new Mariinsky for 10 years, capitalizing on Putin's desire to show that Russia no longer lags behind the West.

He has promised that doubters will eat their words when they see the interior of the 80,000-square-feet (7,400-square-meter) structure.

"The inauguration of Mariinsky II will reaffirm and strengthen the great tradition of the theatre, opening the way for the future when it will be possible to create cutting-edge works of art and innovative performances, which previously we could not even dream of," said Gergiev.

"I feel certain that 25 years from now, Mariinsky II will be seen as a St Petersburg landmark in its own right, recognized for its superb acoustics, dazzling production facilities and unsurpassed level of audience comfort."   Continued...

A view of the original Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg April 30, 2013. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk