If You Build It, Will They Come?


Susan Brodie, Toi Toi Toi

By Susan Brodie: Toi Toi Toi!

Valery Gergiev certainly believes so. In a move to expand audience capacity and enhance the appeal of St. Petersburg, the Mariinsky Theater is set to open its new opera house just six months from now. The new theater, across the canal from the existing 19th century house, will double the seating capacity for opera and ballet while further increasing capacity with its expanded behind-the-scenes facilities. Not halfway through Naomi Lewin’s interview with Maestro Gergiev, everyone in the room was plotting how to swing a trip to the opening Gala next April.

Mariinsky II, by Toronto-based architects A.J. Diamond of Toronto-based Diamond Schmitt Architects, will seatsabout 1900 in its main auditorium, which is about the same as the original theater. However, extensive backstage areas and various “mini” venues, including a roof-top amphitheater, will greatly increase the performance capacity of the complex, which includes the 19th century Mariinsky theater and the 2007 Mariinsky Concert Hall. The nearby Rimsky-Korsakov St. Petersburg State Conservatory, the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, and the resident Mariinsky Academy of Young Singers complete an imposing cultural and educational campus that Gergiev compares to Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts.

At today’s press briefing Gergiev spoke passionately of a major expansion of the number of educational performances, stressing the immediacy of a child’s first experience with live music and the importance of exposing all to this cultural treasure. But he also recognized the Kirov theater’s position as a major tourist attraction in St. Petersburg, which Gergiev called “the most beautiful Italian city on the planet”. Russia’s second largest city attracts around two million visitors annually, most of them during the months of “White Nights”. The 59-year-old music director aspires to present as many as 5 performances daily, so that more can experience the thrill of a performance by the Kirov, whose shows always sell out. He further envisions expanding both orchestra and chorus to accommodate simultaneous presentations at home and on tour, after the model of the Vienna State Opera and Orchestra.

The construction of Mariinsky II is funded entirely by the Russian government.

The Mariinsky maintains an increasingly robust media presence for the many who can’t experience the company live. Recent and upcoming CD recordings on the Mariinsky label include the new debut recording of 2011 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition winner Daniil Trifonov, playing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, (Leningrad), and in February 2013, Die Walkure, with a starry cast including Anya Kampe, Jonas Kaufmann, Rene Pape, and Nina Stemme. On December 3, 2012, some 500 US movie theaters will carry The Mariinsky Ballet’s The Nutcracker in 3D, which will be screened throughout Europe and Asia beginning in November.

Beyond his astonishing musicianship, Gergiev never fails to astonish with his boundless energy, persuasiveness, and drive. The extra and indispensable element is the money to support his vision–we in the US can only dream of the government support. When will this country have a government that recognizes the value of such an institution to all levels of society ?