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Russian city unveils cultural landmark

For all its grand opening, not everybody in St Petersburg in favour of costly, state-of-the-art new Mariinsky Theatre.

Last Modified: 03 May 2013 00:56
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Russia's new "Mariinsky II" theatre has opened in St Petersburg with a gala conducted by Valery Gergiev and other star performers.

The modern ballet and opera house was inaugurated on Thursday and complements the historic and original Mariinsky Theatre.

The event coincided with the 60th birthday of the opera director Gergiev and was broadcast live. Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the opening.

Performers at the gala included the great Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, whose early career at the Mariinsky catapulted her to international stardom.

Al Jazeera's David Chater, reporting from St Petersburg, said that it was Putin's political muscle that made sure there was enough money for the project.

He said the Mariinsky II is part of Putin and Gergiev's dream is to make St Petersburg a capital of culture.

The new theatre, which cost a total of $700m, lies just behind the famous 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.

Contemporary theatre

The building, completed by Canadian firm Diamond and Shmitt Associates, has come under criticism from some prominent cultural figures like Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky and filmmaker Alexander Sokurov.

Al Jazeera's Chater said the locals he interviewed view the theatre as a blot on St Petersburg's cityscape.

"The beige limestone of the facade of the new  theatre has prompted critics to describe it as a public swimming pool or a supermarket," he said.

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.

"We never had a space with such outstanding acoustics [in Russia[," Gergiev 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 St Petersburg through large windows is markedly different from the baroque surroundings of the main Mariinsky building.

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 Putin, whom he has publicly praised for restoring stability in Russia.

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Source:
Al Jazeera And Agencies
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