Ever since the nineteenth century, the Mariinsky Theatre - a jewel in the crown of Russian Imperial
theatres, which in the past enjoyed the direct patronage of the Romanov family - has been an
important cultural symbol of Russian statehood. This concept of statehood, of the prevalence of
the common over the personal good, permeated the Russian school of opera, whose composers
addressed both human drama and folk life. In the operas of Tchaikovsky, Musorgsky,
Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin, the basic story in inevitably coloured by traditional Russian song,
reflecting a lyrical folk outlook on life, man and nature. Such aspects of Russian opera as the static
nature and slowly unfolding action were thus combined with crowd scenes, colourful and
effective scenes of feasting, pulse-quickening marches and operatic apotheoses.
Diaghilev's celebrated "Saisons Russes" in Paris marked the start of Russian opera's triumphant
march across the world stages. It was a march that began at the Mariinsky Theatre; a march that
was soon to encompass every continent. In this instance, the Mariinsky Theatre has served the
function of Europe's "window on Russia", offering an insight into the enigmatic Russian soul.
This part of the Matiinsky history adds significance to the Theatre's nineteenth-century role as
the "home of Russian opera". In addition to that important function, it also acted like a two-way
tunnel, serving as the receptacle of musical information from the West. Ever since its founding in
the early eighteenth century, leading Italian opera companies have worked and performed here,
under such composers as Araia, Traetta and Sarti. The operas of Paisiello and Galuppi, and later
Mozart and Rossini, have all been staged at the Theatre. At the turn of the century, the Mariinsky
Opera undertook an unprecedented production of Wagner's entire cycle of "Der Ring des
Nibelungen", the first staging of the complete tetralogy after the Bayreuth Wagner Festival. The
Theatre has also staged masterpieces by Verdi, Strauss and Berg.
The history of the Mariinsky Theatre and its integration into the world opera community thus
developed under the dual influence of the aesthetics of Russian national opera and the West
European musical theatre, all under the watchful eye of demanding St.Petersburg public. Although
artificially interrupted in the middle of the twentieth century, this process is today gathering an
The appointment of Valery Gergiev as Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the Mariinsky
Theatre provided new impetus for fresh productions, ones which met the highest of world
standards in modern operatic art. Leading Western opera conductors are now regularly invited to
work here. Large-scale festivals dedicated to the "oeuvre" of a single composer (Musorgsky,
Prokofiev, Rimsky-Korsakov) have recently taken place. One of the five premieres given during
the Prokofiev Festival, David Freeman's staging of "The Fiery Angel", was voted "Opera of the
Year" in Japan in 1993.
This year, the Theatre is turning to Wagners last mystical opera, "Parsifal". Work has begun on a
new production of "Boris Godunov" in the composer's original version of 1869.
The Mariinsky Opera also plays an important role in the world of opera in general, through its
foreign tours, participation in international festivals and co-production with the Royal Opera at
Covent Garden, Milan's La Scala, Oper der Stadt Bonn, New York's Metropolitan Opera and the
San Francisco Opera. Reflecting the splendour of its past glory and basking in its present-day
success, the Mariinsky Theatre proudly advances into the twenty-first century.