Lonely Planet‘s 6th edition St. Petersburg published in 2012 begins with a Top 10 List of essentials for visitors. Mariinsky Ballet is #7. “What could be more Russian than seeing a ballet at the city’s famous Mariinsky Theatre?” it asked rhetorically. It also warned readers to book long before travel to make sure they didn’t miss out. Everyone who heard that we were going to St. Petersburg told us with starry eyes to attend a performance, any performance.
I went to mariinsky.ru/en and found that ballet was not scheduled. In fact, the world-famous Mariinsky Ballet Company was touring the US while we were touring Russia. I could have bought tickets on-line for the Verdi Requiem, but decided instead to trust fate.
On our second night in St. Petersburg, we walked to centrally located Theater Square, gasped at first sight of the green and white Mariinsky, went in, and got the last 2 tickets to a now sold out performance that began in one hour. This gave us a chance to explore a 19th century building named for a Tsarina.
According to Lonely Planet, 2012 was supposed to be the year a new Mariinsky Theater opened. Officially announced back in 2003, it would be next to the old, seat 2,000, and have 6 stages. Ruth & I wandered behind the 1860 building, found ongoing construction, and assumed that the new Mariinsky, the first major venue of its kind since Imperial times, was well behind schedule.
The first theater called Mariinsky was built on what was then called Carousel Square. Works by Tchaikovsky, etc, premiered there. The historic Alexandrinsky Theater is still across from Mariinsky and regularly scheduling opera performances, etc. After the Communist Revolution in 1917, the Mariinsky was put under the People’s Enlightenment Commissariat and renamed the State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet. In 1935 it became The Kirov. In the late 1960s major reconstruction occurred. In 1992 it returned to the Mariinsky name, but the ballet company continued to tour under Kirov probably because the whole world knew Nureyev and Baryshnikov. They both danced there before defecting, but not together.
The program was, of course, in Russian but came with an English insert. Matching the building’s exterior, the program was elegantly green and white. The Verdi was staged like performance art, not a concert, and Ruth & I both agreed that Mariinsky belonged in the Top Two.