Russia's famous Mariinsky theatre in Saint Petersburg was to inaugurate a new ballet and opera house on Thursday in an event coinciding with the 60th birthday of its hugely ambitious and well-connected director Valery Gergiev.
The new Mariinsky-2 theatre will open with a gala on Thursday night conducted by Gergiev with star performers from across the world, and with Russian President Vladimir Putin expected in the audience.
Putin, who on May Day gave Gergiev one of five prestigious Hero of Labour medals in a revival of a Soviet tradition, lavished the conductor with praise.
"A man endowed with truly unending creative energy, brilliant, inimitable maestro," Putin said in a birthday telegram Thursday, calling Gergiev "one of the outstanding musicians of our time."
The new theatre lies just behind the historic Mariinsky Theatre, which was founded in the 18th century and was the birthplace of the ballets like Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" and Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet".
The theatre is the centrepiece of Gergiev's vision of making Saint Petersburg an international capital for music, which has already seen the creation of a brand new Mariinsky concert hall nearby.
The building, completed by Canadian firm Diamond and Shmitt Associates for a total of 21.6 billion rubles ($700 million), had come under criticism from some prominent cultural figures like Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky and filmmaker Alexander Sokurov.
But Gergiev told people to hold their judgement until they see the interior.
"The answer to why we built (this) will be apparent when you enter the theatre," he said as he showed off the vast modern space to journalists Thursday.
He said he picked the architects because they had just completed the opera house in Toronto.
"We never had a space with such outstanding acoustics (in Russia)," he said. "I think that now we have one of the best modern opera theatres in the world."
The contemporary white space of the theatre with a magnificent view of Saint Petersburg through large windows is markedly different from the baroque surroundings of the main Mariinsky building.
The centrepiece of the cavernous hall is an honey-coloured onyx wall, while the classically shaped main auditorium is lined with blond wood.
Gergiev, currently also chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, openly acknowledged that none of the plans would have been possible without the support of strongman Putin, whom he has publicly praised for restoring stability in Russia.
"Performances and concerts... allow people to feel what joy it is to live on this earth, what joy to live in Russia, to live today in a stable country, a country that is wealthy, first and foremost with human talent," Gergiev said Wednesday at his medal reception.
Performers at the gala will include the great Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, whose early career at the Mariinsky catapulted her to international stardom.
Among the ballet dancers performing will be the supreme Russian ballerina of modern times, Ulyana Lopatkina, and the much-admired Diana Vishneva, in a gala that the theatre clearly hopes will outdo the reopening of Moscow's Bolshoi in October 2011 after a major refit.
The event, which is being broadcast live on Russian state television, will begin at 1600 GMT and kick off a glittering array of events later in the week.
Source: Ahram Online