After making ourselves fancy, we headed over to the opening gala for the Mariinsky II. And what a spectacle! After taking a picture with Polish composer Krzystof Penderecki, and dodging huge groups of very distinguished looking men with many medals on their lapels in the lobby, we made our way to our seats. President Putin gave a brief opening speech, and the concert began.
Truly a medley, we saw and heard the opera chorus, the children’s chorus, the ballet company, and a star-studded list of soloists. The acoustics did not disappoint – although we were sitting near the top of the hall, the balance between the singers and orchestra was magnificent. Anna Netrebko sang an aria from Verdi’s Macbeth, Placido Domingo sang Siegmund’s aria from Die Walküre, and Yuri Bashmet played Saint-Saen’s Le Cygne. The chorus sang a stunning Coronation Scene from Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. This grand choral spectacle filled the hall with shouts of “Slava, Slava!” (“Glory, glory!”) – a theme that so symbolized Russia that Beethoven used it in his Op. 59, No. 2 quartet written for the Russian Count Razumovsky.
The ballet company performed the first couple scenes of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (which features prominently on the tour program, too, as the piece approaches its centennial) in front of a projection of Nicholas Roeric’s famous original stage designs. This performance began in reconstructions of the original costumes dancing to Najinsky’s original choreography (with all of its stomping and sharp, distorted angles), but then the stage began to move, bringing out a second group of dancers. This group, though, was in simple, monochromatic gray clothing dancing to a modern choreography – history changed before our very eyes! Méphistophélès’ aria from Gounod’s Faust, “Le Veau d’Or,” sung by René Pape, followed – a role that Igor Stravinsky’s father, Fyodor, had been famous for at the old Mariinsky Theatre.
But nothing could beat the closing number, the finale to Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta. Iolanta, the daughter of Good King René of Provence, was born blind, but finally wins sight through the power of love. The finale describes her first time being able to see. She sees her father, then she sees her lover, and finally the sky. Like Iolanta seeing the heavens for the first time, we hear the full force of all the Mariinsky ensembles – the orchestra, soloists, a huge chorus, and on-stage brass reinforcements. What a way to open a stage.