Mariinsky Theater to Close for a Makeover

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Mariinsky, St. Petersburg's leading opera and ballet theater, will close for repairs in January 2007 and is scheduled to reopen in May 2008, general director Valery Gergiev said last week.

The Mariinsky will be refurbished, including improvements in fire safety, the ability to move stage designs and more user-friendly services. Gergiev sought to calm concern that the reconstruction would ruin the theater's majestic tsarist-era interior.

"There will be no radical changes to the theater's interior," he said at a press conference Wednesday before the opening of the White Nights Festival. "Only outside, on the side of the theater that faces the canal, will there be changes, and that will only be done to give this side back its original appearance, the way it was about 130 years ago."

For the duration of the closure, the Mariinsky will hold performances in its new 1,100-seat concert hall on nearby Ulitsa Pisareva, which opens in June, as well as at the Theater of Musical Comedy and the Lensoviet House of Culture.

The reconstruction of the Mariinsky Theater is part of grand plans to build a second theater. Designed by French postmodernist architect Dominique Perrault, the Mariinsky's new performing arts center is to total almost 40,000 square meters and seat about 2,000. The current Mariinsky Theater seats 1,700.

The new theater is to be located in an adjacent lot, just across the Kryukov Canal, with a bridge connecting the two sites, and is scheduled to be complete by 2009. The costs of the construction have been reduced, as was the building's size, Gergiev said.

Gergiev reacted strongly to comments that the new stage might become the Mariinsky's center of gravity.

"I am strongly against the possibility that Mariinsky 2 might eclipse the original Mariinsky theater building," the conductor said. "I repeat, I am strongly against this."