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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Former Diva Opens Opera Center

MTGalina Vishnevskaya, far left, Yuri Luzhkov, Mstislav Rostrapovich and Naina Yeltsin applauding at the opera center's opening ceremony on Sunday.
In her memoirs, opera star Galina Vishnevskaya recalls how in the 1950s she took private voice lessons in a cramped room from a poor old woman who had studied in Italy before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

Vishnevskaya's own students -- all 25 of them -- will be luckier. At least in that they will be taking their classes in a new opera center on one of Moscow's most prestigious streets.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and the renowned 75-year-old soprano opened the center Sunday in a star-studded ceremony that included Vishnevskaya's husband, cellist Mstislav Rostrapovich, and former first lady Naina Yeltsin.

Speaking in the elegant 320-seat theater, Luzhkov paid tribute to the aggressiveness with which Vishnevskaya pursued the project.

"We know Galina Pavlovna Vishnevskaya not only as a great singer ... but also as a willful, unwomanly strong person," Luzhkov said. "Her will has always been overwhelming. She has overpowered the Moscow city government, she has overpowered everybody."

"And look, we're here!" Vishnevskaya exclaimed.

Once a Bolshoi prima donna who made her name in parts such as Liza in Tchaikovsky's "Queen of Spades" and Katerina in Shostakovich's "Katerina Izmailova," Vishnevskaya defected with her husband in 1974.

Vishnevskaya envisages her center as a bridge between the conservatory, which she says fails to teach singers many of the skills they need on stage, and the theater.

"After 50 years of dedication to the art, I know how to help beginning performers. But for that, it's not a conservatory that's needed -- with its curriculum -- but a special place and a stage," she wrote in a booklet for the opening.

During the two-year program, the 25 students who have already been selected from about 200 applicants will not only study with Vishnevskaya and other singers, but also with directors, choreographers and stage designers. Each student is supposed to study at least four opera parts and participate in a production each year.

The center plans to promote itself to the city's moneyed elite and is setting up an opera club for its patrons, who would have VIP access to special events.

The opening ceremony provided little information as to how the project was financed. The construction took years and generated a number of rumors in Moscow, including one that the Rostrapoviches were investing in the city's real estate.

According to the booklet, the center's construction was funded by an unidentified outside investor and City Hall paid for the center's equipment.

Luzhkov said the center could be compared with other cultural projects that were financed by an adjacent business or residential complex. He said the same companies that built the Meyerhold Center on Dolgorukovskaya Ulitsa were involved in the Vishnevskaya Center.

The opera center's developer, Falcondale Developments Ltd., could not be reached for comment Sunday.

In addition to the five-story opera center, the complex includes 2,000 square meters of office space, an underground parking lot and 69 apartments ranging from 140 to 350 square meters each. An Opera House cafe, a gym and several stores already advertise under the 25 Ulitsa Ostozhenka address.