Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia

Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia


Early history of ballet in St. Petersburg

Even though Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg was not constructed and opened until 1862, the history of opera and ballet in the city began almost 80 years earlier when the Imperial Ballet and Opera Theatre first began operating in 1783. Since there was no permanent ballet house in St. Petersburg at the time, the ballet company performed on different stages around the city, including Maly Theater and Kamenniy Theater, the site of the latter now houses the Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory and the modern Mariinsky Theater is located right across from it. 

The Kamenniy Theater was constructed by Antonio Rinaldi and then remodeled and enlarged several times by Thomas de Thomon and Alberto Cavos. 

In 1845 a travelling circus lead by Alessandro Guerra came to tour in St. Petersburg and the city’s population instantly fell in love with the art of circus, which they have not seen before. Driven by this success Guerra convinced city authorities to construct a new wooden building to house the circus permanently, the new building was built across from the Kamennyi Theater, which would later become the location of the Mariinsky Theater. After a few years of the new circus’s operation, emperor Nicholas I recognized the popularity of circus art in the city and ordered to create the Cirque de la Direction des Theatres Imperiaux, which was lead by the world-famous artist Paul Cuzent from the Paris Circus. 

In 1847 the old circus building was demolished and in 1849 the new building created by architect Alberto Cavos was opened to the public. This was a luxurious building decorated with crystal chandeliers, frescoes and gilded wall decor that combined both a circus ring and a stage under the same roof. After the new building was opened Cuzent experimented with various types of performances but they were not well-received by the public and the circus director soon resigned, which caused the popularity of the Imperial Circus to decline further. The building soon began housing mostly performances by the Russian Opera Company. The building eventually came into disrepair and burnt down in 1859. 

The new Mariinsky Theatre building

The current building of Mariinsky theater was designed by architect Cavos and named after Empress Maria Alexandrovna, the wife of Tsar Alexander II. The design of the new building recreated some elements and the neoclassical style of the old circus building but with some improvements, like an increased height. Some of the original design elements that remain in the theater today include a ceiling mural by Entico Franciolli called a Clock with Cupids and a magnificent chandelier. Upon its opening the Theater and the Russian Opera Company became wildly popular with the public. 

The Imperial Ballet Company made its final move to the Mariinsky Theater from the Kamenniy Theater across the road in 1886. Marius Petipa became Premier Maitre de Ballet of the company and his masterpieces, the Nutcracker, the Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake were performed on stage of the Mariinsky Theater for the first time ever. The theater underwent renovations several times under architect Victor Schroter and the famous stage curtain of the theater was designed and put in place in 1914.

Even though the theater was renamed after a party official Sergey Kirov in the Soviet times, the theater remained well-regarded around the world and maintained its artistic glory till today. 
Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia
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