The Mariinsky Theatre’s Stars of the White Nights Festival opened last evening – with performances of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Dargomyzhsky’s opera, Rusalka. This celebration of the finest in opera and ballet productions, great symphonic works, masterpieces of chamber music and premieres, takes place in the city of St Petersburg each summer, from May to July. With at least one performance on each night of its nine-week duration, it must surely be the most magnificent and spectacular festival of the performing arts anywhere. It’s certainly a stunning showcase for the world renowned artistry of the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet, Opera and Symphony Orchestra.
The Stars of the White Nights Festival takes its name from the short Russian summer season, when the sun never sets, and the beauty of the the White Nights of St Petersburg lends a special magic to the city. Audiences emerge at midnight from the world-class performances at the historic Mariinsky Theatre, the recently-opened Mariinsky New Theatre and the Mariinsky Concert Hall, to stroll along the streets of St Petersburg – in daylight.
The Festival was created in 1993 by Valery Gergiev, Artistic and General Director of the Mariinsky Theatre, as a “musical gift” to the city from the Mariinsky and its stars. From its inception – as a 10-day event – the Festival has focused on masterpieces from the world of ballet, opera and music, and over the years has increased in strength, popularity and international acclaim. World renowned conductors and artists accept with honour the invitation to appear at the Stars of the White Nights Festival.
The history of the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet and Opera can be traced back to 1783, with the establishment of a committee “for performances and music” as decreed by Empress Catherine the Great. The magnificent Mariinsky Theatre of today was named in honour of the Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Alexander II. It opened on Theatre Square on October 2nd, 1860, with a production of Glinka’s opera, A Life for the Tsar, under the baton of Konstantin Lyadov, conductor of the Russian Opera Company, and father of the renowned composer Anatoly Lyadov. The theatre’s glorious white sculptures, glittering gilt chandeliers and pale blue decor created the perfect atmosphere in which to herald a golden period in the history of St Petersburg.
The Mariinsky Theatre occupies a unique position among the world’s performing arts organisations, with a touring schedule and residencies abroad giving more than 200 performances each year. The artistic impact of the Mariinsky, and its ambassadorial role on behalf of Russian culture, have been recognised by governments and international organisations across the globe.
In 1862, Verdi’s La Forza del Destino premiered on the Mariinsky stage, paving the way for Russian masterpieces such as Boris Godunov (1874), Prince Igor (1890), and The Queen of Spades (1890). Under conductor Eduard Napravnik, the Theatre rapidly took its place amongst the leading opera houses of the world. The Theatre‘s ballet company – under director Marius Petipa – achieved equal international acclaim. Premiering Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, it influenced the development of classical dance for generations to come, with legendary figures such as Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky amongst its star artists.
Under Soviet rule, the Mariinsky Theatre was renamed the Kirov Theatre, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it reverted to its pre-revolutionary name.
In 1988 Valery Gergiev was appointed Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Kirov Opera, and in 1966, was named Artistic and General Director of the Mariinsky Theatre. Under his leadership, the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet, Opera and Symphony Orchestra have continued to attract international acclaim.
The programme of performances taking place during the Festival is simply astounding, and the stellar list of performers quite superb – over 40 evenings of ballet, more than 40 opera productions and over 30 of orchestral music and recitals. For a complete schedule – and further information – see Stars of the White Nights Festival.
The Stars of the White Nights Festival runs until July 28th