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The Mariinsky Theatre
The Mariinsky Theatre is by all means the pride and glory of Russia. It is the best known Russian theatre and a real symbol of the Russian culture.
The Mariinsky Theatre is one of the oldest music theatre in Russia. Its first season is considered to be 1783 when the Kamenny Theater (kamenny is the Russian word for stone) was established at the behest of Empress Elizabeth. The Kamenny Theater hosted a court opera and ballet troupe. In 1860, the eminent architect Albert Cavos built a stone opera and ballet house to replace a wooden building of circus which doubled as a theater and had burnt down. The new theater was named Mariinsky after Empress Maria Fedorovna, wife of Alexander II, and soon became the center of the cultural life of St.Petersburg.
What makes the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre famous? It is great names, topmost level and world premieres. Most of the prominent names of the 19th-20th centuries from the world of art are one way or another related to the theater. It is here that the concept of “classical ballet” appeared created by the genius choreographer Marius Petipa in his ballets “The Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake” to the music by Tchaikovsky. Artists Alexander Golovin, Konstantin Korovin, Alexander Benois, and Valentin Serov were engaged in stage productions. Their paintings are displayed in the Russian museum.
The theater saw triumphs of numerous generations of opera and ballet stars – Anna Pavlova, Matilda Kshesinskaya, Vaslav Nijinsky, Galina Ulanova, Rudolf Nureev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Feodor Chaliapin.
After the October revolution, the Mariinsky Theatre was named after Sergey Kirov, a senior statesman of that time. It was under this name that the theater was famous worldwide during a long period until 1991, when it was given back its original name.
Today, the Mariinsky Theatre is home to the greatest names of opera and ballet – opera singers Anna Netrebko and Olga Borodina, ballet dancers Ilya Kuznetsov, Ulyana Lopatkina and Diana Vishneva, productions like “The Nutcracker”, “La Sylphide”, “Giselle”, “Don Quixote”, “La Bayadère”, “The Sleeping Beauty” , “Prince Igor”,” Aida” and others, as well as concerts of symphonic music. Every year, the company stages new premieres, some of them being products of cooperation with the world’s best theaters: Covent Garden, La Scala, La Fenice, the Tel Aviv Opera and the San Francisco Opera.
For a long period of time, the theater has been an avid organizer of festivals, which have brought it fame worldwide. Prominent musicians from all over the world come to St Petersburg to the annual ballet and opera festivals Stars of the White Nights, Maslennitsa and Mariinsky.
The Mariinsky Theatre entered the new millennium with Valery Gergiev as Artistic Director. Being a top world level conductor and a talented manager, Valery Gergiev managed to bring the Mariinsky Theater to the worldwide orbit of the operatic and ballet art in the difficult 1990s, and made the Kirov Theater brand recognizable and attractive.
7 curious facts from the history of the Mariinsky Theatre
1. The Mariinsky Theater opened on 2 October 1860 with a performance of Mikhail Glinka’s A life for the Tsar. The Theatre was constructed to replace the building of Equestrian Circus designed to double as a theater which was opened in 1848 but burnt down ten years later. Both the Equestrian circus and the Mariinsky Theatre house were build by architect Albert Cavos.
2. The official emblem of the Mariinsky Theater is its stage curtain made in 1914 by artist Alexander Golovin using the techniques of oil painting and appliqués ornaments. The design is the same as the pattern of the dress tail worn by Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Alexander II. It was after her the theater was named.
3. Right under the roof of the Marrinsky Theater is another auditorium which bears the name of prominent artist Alexander Golovin. “Soft” pieces of stage scenery are made there. It is one of the most legendary places in the theater. It was here that Alexander Golovin painted his famous portrait of Feodor Chaliapin dressed as Boris Godunov. A quarrel between two poets Maximilian Voloshin and Nikolai Gumilev which resulted in a famous duel. The arm chair against which Alexander Golovin leans in his portrait by artist Alexandre Yakovleff (displayed in the upper circle foyer) is still stored at the Mariinsky theater.
4. During almost one hundred years the orchestra pit was under the front part of the stage. Hydraulic elevating devices, which could raise and lower the pit floor, were installed as late as in the 1970s. When the original pit floor was opened up in the course of the restoration works, a layer of broken crystal was found. Construction workers removed it with spades without trying to find out why it was there. The function of the broken crystal became clear during the next music performance. In the 19th century, the material was used to improve the acoustics of the opera house.
By the way, it is believed that seats in the upper circle are the best place for opera lovers as the acoustics is the best there, and seats in the dress circle are the best for ballet connoisseurs as the choreography patterns can be seen perfectly well from there.
5. The Imperial Box was originally decorated with a monogram: a motif of the initial letters of the names of Maria Alexandrovna and Alexander II. The Soviet government replaced the royal monogram with a hammer and sickle symbol; and the theater was renamed to Kirov State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet in 1934). In 1992 the theater’s original name and livery were restored. The Tsar’s family used the Imperial Box only on special occasions like visits of official foreign delegations or performances for special events or holidays. The Romanovs preferred their family box, which was right opposite the box of the theater director.
Today, seats in the Imperial Box can be purchased at the booking office (unless reserved for a governmental delegation) but seats in the royal family box or director’s box are available only by courtesy of the theater administration. In the wall of the royal family box, there is a secret door which leads to ballerinas’ dressing rooms. It is believed that after a performance was over, members of the royal family went through this door to the female part of the theater to greet ballerinas whose performance they enjoyed the most. A legend says that the future Russian Tsar Nicholas II used this door to visit his admirer ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya.
6. The three-layer bronze chandelier in the centre of the ceiling has 210 light bulbs and 23,000 hanging pieces of crystal and weights 2.5 tons The plafond painting was made after a design by artist Cosroe Dusi and carries dancing nymphs and Cupids. Around it are twelve portraits of great Russian playwrights of the 18th and 19th centuries. The pictures of Denis Fonvizin, Nikolai Gogol, and Alexander Ostrovsky remind the audience of the fact that the Mariinsky Theater was originally intended as a stage for the opera and drama troupes of the Imperial theater.
7. Behind the stage resides a bell – Actor Emeritus of the Mariinsky Theater, which still has parts in the operas Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina. The bell is 200 years old but it was only in the 1930s when it arrived at the Mariinsky Theater. A legend says that in the 1920s when religion was suppressed, the bell was taken off a church and thrown into the Krukov canal, where it stayed during several years until it was pulled out of the water and given to the theater.