Here in St. Petersburg we woke up this morning and decided to explore the parts of the city near our hotel. After strolling along Griboyedov Canal for a bit, we came to a street market. Shops filled with Russian knick-knacks, cheap beer, and some delicious looking pastries competed with peddlers selling cardboard boxes full of fresh herring. Lots of unique smells, to say the least! Theater posters, signs, and store fronts line the streets, offering everything from internet banking endorsed by Ironman to Wrestlemania and Hugh Laurie. We even saw a Mozzarella Bar!
After a delicious lunch at the Shtolle, where we were offered pies filled with meat, cheese, and cowberries, we went to the first full opera production at Mariinsky II – Tchaikovsky’s 1892 Iolanta. Iolanta, the daughter of Good King René of Provence, has been blind her whole life but doesn’t know it. Her father has shielded her away in a magic garden, where her companions are forbidden on pain of death to ever mention her disability. The king brings back with him a Moorish physician, Ibn-Hakia, who suggests in the aria “Two Worlds” that Iolanta can only be cured if she is made aware of her blindness. But the king says no, fearing for his daughter’s unhappiness if the treatment does not work. Meanwhile, the Duke of Burgundy, Robert (who is betrothed to Iolanta), arrives in search of King René, intending to break off his engagement in order to marry his true love, Mathilde of Lorraine. His friend, Vaudémont, a count, however sees Iolanta and falls in love with her. In an duet, he asks Iolanta for a red rose, but realizes that she is blind after she admits to not knowing what red is. He describes the beauty of light and vision to Iolanta. But her father arrives and discovers what Vaudémont has done. Iolanta, now made aware of what she is missing, decides to undergo the doctor’s treatment. Driven by her great love for the count, Iolanta miraculously gains sight, leading the ensemble into a stunning finale. Anna Netrebko sang the role of Iolanta. In keeping with the theater’s vision, full use was made of rotating and moving stages, set against a visually arresting digital backdrop.