Putin Opens $700 Million New Mariinsky With Domingo Gala

May 3, 2013
by Henry Meyer and Stepan Kravchenko

President Vladimir Putin and performers led by Placido Domingo starred at the opening of a $700 million stage for the Mariinsky Theatre that aims to cement its status as one of the world's top cultural institutions.

Last night's black-tie gala starts three days of celebrations in St. Petersburg, Russia's former imperial capital. The 230-year-old company's state-funded expansion is "the most exciting new chapter" since the 1917 Revolution, Mariinsky's director Valery Gergiev told Bloomberg News before conducting the opening night.

Putin, speaking to the champagne-drinking, jewel-wearing crowd, praised the theater. "It has always been and stays as one of the flagships of Russian culture," he said. Domingo joined Russian-born soprano Anna Netrebko and German bass Rene Pape for scenes from Mozart's "Don Giovanni."

The opera house designed by Canadian architect Jack Diamond is connected via a bridge to the pale-green Mariinsky building that opened in 1860. It has stirred a storm of criticism in Putin's hometown for a facade that some have compared to that of a shopping mall or office block.

Yet under the Russian leader's personal patronage, Mariinsky II is part of the country's global ambitions. The first opera house in Russia to be built on the scale of New York's Lincoln Center, it allows the Mariinsky to simultaneously stage ballet, opera and orchestral performances. Putin has just bestowed on Gergiev a Hero of Labor award, restored from the Soviet era, for his contribution to the arts.

Cultural Crown

"It is setting up St. Petersburg to be the jewel in the world's cultural crown," said Graham Watts, head of the dance section of the U.K. Critics' Circle, who met Gergiev in December during a presentation in London of the project.

The Mariinsky, known in Soviet times as the Kirov, won the Critics Circle's 2011 outstanding dance company prize.

"Gergiev's domination at the Mariinsky, which is strong and rooted in a creative vision, means that you have a clear-sighted company that doesn't have these divisions and political problems that the Bolshoi has," Watts said in a phone interview.

Domingo, who also performed a solo scene from Wagner's "Die Walkure," said afterward that the concert had been "phenomenal in this fantastic opera house."

Opera Love

"It's amazing that it's happening in this city which in the old days was as important as Paris," he told Bloomberg. "That's amazing that the Russian public can really have the love for opera now having two theaters" including the restored Bolshoi, Domingo said.

Read the full story online at Bloomberg.