The next morning, we go to see the Mariinsky II, which sits on the other side of the Kryukov Canal from the old Mariinsky Theatre. Immediately after stepping off our shuttle bus, we notice the older building’s striking pastel green color. Built in 1860 as a gift from the Emperor Alexander II to his wife Maria, this theater possesses a long pedigree, going through some five name changes and hosting the greats of Russian opera, from Feodor Chaliapin to Anna Netrebko.
Across the street from the theater are statues of Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakov, and the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Founded in 1862 by Anton Rubenstein, the Conservatory has trained or employed many of Russia’s greatest musical figures.
St. Petersburg is a sprawling, historic, and uniform city (Dostoevsky called it “the most theoretical and intentional town on the whole terrestrial globe”), so how would this new, modern opera theater fit into the surrounding architecture? The architects matched that pastel Mariinsky green with the green found in the lobby of the new building. Because the exterior walls are glass, the green of the old theater just seems to leap across the canal and blend into the new building.
These glass exterior walls frame a stunning interior, covered in back-lit onyx and accented by crystal chandeliers. Lit up at night, the exterior walls of the hall itself (an almost free-floating structure inside the larger building), according to the architect Jack Diamond,project a sense of Petersburg’s exuberant churches – a cathedral to music, a musical “holy of holies.”
This building spans some 850,000 square feet, including not just an opera house, but also smaller performance spaces (up to seven performances may occur simultaneously), numerous rehearsal rooms, a full-service stage shop and production facility, a hotel, cafeterias and restaurants. Of course, for performers awaiting their cues, the green rooms are Mariinsky green.
Stepping now inside the hall itself, we are struck by the intimacy between stage, pit, and audience. A horseshoe shape defines this 2,000-seat hall, all designed to exacting acoustical specifications. But the backstage is perhaps the most incredible. There we see some tantalizing hints of tonight’s performance: a replica of the old theater, some larger-than-life suits of armor, and a whole fleet of old-fashioned carriages lining the backstage space, which is itself the depth of two normal stages. We can’t wait to see tonight’s performances!