Discover a true Russian art with this guide to opera in St Petersburg
Who could come to Russia and miss out on seeing some opera? Emotional, powerful and incredibly beautiful, opera has been an integral part of Russian culture since the 18th century. Originally introduced by the Italians, opera found an immediate fan in Russia’s Empress Anna Ioannovna. Empress Anna hosted the first Russian opera, Cepahlus and Prokris, while Empress Elizabeth had La Clemenza di Tito performed at her coronation. After being confined to the privacy of the royal palaces for many years, public theatres slowly began to open, allowing people outside the court to enjoy this new entertainment. Since then, St Petersburg’s opera scene has flourished. From the ancient Alexandrinsky Theatre to the impressive Mikhailovsky Theatre and the renowned St Petersburg Chamber Opera Company, these are some of the best places to enjoy opera in St Petersburg.
Widely considered the most impressive theatre in St Petersburg, Mariinksy Theatre still occupies its original building (where Tchaikovsky premiered the Nutcracker in 1892), though it has been updated with glitzy gold interiors and sparkling crystal chandeliers. The theatre has showcased some of the greatest operas in the world and opera buffs can still catch performances of internationally acclaimed productions such as Carmen, Madame Butterfly, Otello, Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Eugene Onegin. The theatre also regularly showcases fresh new productions. Season premieres coming up in autumn and winter 2016 include A Christmas Tale, Hansel und Gretel, The Idiot, The Oprichnik and Simon Boccanegra. Mariinsky Theatre is also one of the primary hosts of the famous Stars of the White Nights festival, which takes place over three months every summer.
The Mikhailovsky Theatre is one of the oldest opera and ballet houses in Russia. Built by Russian artist Alexander Brullov in 1833 and named after Grand Prince Mikhail, it was originally a space where French and Russian talents could perform together. Nowadays, the impressive yellow building offers some of the best opera in St Petersburg. Like Mariinsky Theatre, opera enthusiasts can enjoy performances of many famous international shows here, such as Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Verdi’s La Traviata, but while its famous neighbour focuses predominantly on the classics, Mikhailovsky Theatre also stages a mix of modern performances spanning opera, ballet and drama.
Located adjacent to the world-famous Marrinsky Theatre, Mariinsky II is a new theatre dedicated to opera, ballet and symphonic music. Bringing the Mariinsky name into the 21st century, Mariinsky II appeals to a contemporary audience with performances deemed too modern for its more traditional neighbour. The state-of-the-art theatre, which opened in 2013, presents a wide variety of acts across various genres, including operas by some of the world’s acclaimed opera companies. While the auditorium is modern in design, it’s set out to replicate the horseshoe shape of 18th and 19th century opera houses, providing visitors with ideal acoustics and sight lines wherever they’re seated. As well as memorable performances, visitors can enjoy some of the best views of St Petersburg from the building’s rooftop terrace, which is open during summer.
The St Petersburg Chamber Opera Company was established in 1987 as a “creative laboratory” for local talents. In 1998, the company went from performing at locations around the city to its own venue, the restored mansion of Baron von Derviz – a beautiful space where world-leading talents such as Russian opera singer Fyodor Chaliapin and American dancer Isadora Duncan once performed. Led by Olga Vorobyova, the company has a score of talented singers, as well as an orchestra and chorus. Visitors can enjoy magical performances by the St Petersburg Chamber Opera Company several times a week.