Russia's new Mariinsky theatre woos the doubters

Thu May 2, 2013 4:36pm EDT
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By Alexei Anishchuk and Liza Dobkina

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Enlisting the drama of Prokofiev and the elegance of Tchaikovsky, St Petersburg's new Mariinsky theatre 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 breathe life into the theatre. 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.

Calling the Mariinsky by its affectionate short name Mariinka, Putin said the theatre had always preserved the best traditions of the Russian arts, never losing "its shine".

"Seven hundred and sixty 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.   Continued...

Actors perform during a fragment of the "Boris Godunov" opera by Modest Mussorgsky, as part of a gala concert at Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg May 1, 2013. Picture taken May 1, 2013. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk