New Mariinsky Theatre opens in St. Petersburg

One of the largest performing arts facilities in the world opened on May 2, 2013 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Mariinsky II designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects is the new home of the acclaimed Mariinsky opera, ballet and orchestra.

Located in the historic centre of St. Petersburg across the Kryukov Canal from the original Mariinsky Theatre (1860), the new opera/ballet house is a structure of authentic contemporary architecture that pays homage to its setting with a 21st-century sensibility. The state-of-the-art facility enables one of the world’s most prolific performing arts companies to dramatically enhance its repertoire and to create new works and innovative productions.

“Mariinsky II embraces the themes and forms of St. Petersburg and contains a jewel of an auditorium that is based upon the successful configuration of past houses, and one in which the social aspects of attending opera or ballet performances have been enhanced for every member of the audience,” said Jack Diamond, Principal with Diamond Schmitt Architects. The Toronto-based firm is well versed in theatre design, with major halls completed in Montreal, Washington, DC and Detroit – and won the international competition for Mariinsky II on the strength of its acclaimed Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.

The 851,580-square-foot facility fills an entire city block and consists of a masonry base of Jura limestone, large structural glass bay windows and a gently curved metal roof with a glass canopy to give a contemporary expression rooted in St. Petersburg’s architectural heritage. The design intent is to provide a frame for the original Mariinsky theatre from the streetscape and allow extensive views of the landmark neoclassical theatre from within Mariinsky II.

“Extensive public space with dramatic staircases connects multi-tiered lobbies that heighten the sense of occasion of attending the opera and ballet for spectators,” said Gary McCluskie, Principal with Diamond Schmitt Architects. A large illuminated onyx wall encasing the auditorium together with lobby chandelier lighting creates an effervescent beacon that enlivens both the theatre and its surroundings.

The main auditorium, designed in the tradition of 18th- and 19th-century opera houses, features a horseshoe configuration with three balconies, offering superb sightlines for an audience of approximately 2,000 people. Acoustic treatments are integral to the wood-lined hall, which is shaped to provide an outstanding acoustic experience for both performers and audience alike.

The 567,700-square-foot back of house accommodates full stage-size rehearsal rooms for the Mariinsky Opera, Ballet, Orchestra and Chorus as well as dining and production facilities for 2,500 staff. The new theatre is the production centre for the Mariinsky Cultural Complex, including a nearby concert hall, the Music Academy and the original Mariinsky Theatre, which will soon close for renovation.

A distinctive feature of Mariinsky II is a rooftop amphitheatre for performances during the Mariinsky’s White Nights summertime festival when the sun barely sets on St. Petersburg.

For Mariinsky Artistic and General Director Valery Gergiev, the opening of Mariinsky II marks a moment to reaffirm the long and great heritage of an institution that has witnessed the premieres and works of some of the most recognizable names in classical music – Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov – and paves the way for the next generation of Russian composers, musicians and dancers.

“Mariinsky II has been designed with the strength, confidence and functional clarity that a building requires if it is to become a lasting part of the life of its city,” said maestro Gergiev. “I feel certain that 25 years from now, Mariinsky II will be seen as a St. Petersburg landmark in its own right, recognized for its superb acoustics, dazzling production facilities and unsurpassed level of audience comfort.”

The realization of this significant project brings more than a sense of accomplishment to Diamond Schmitt Architects. “This commission sends a strong signal that Canadian architects can work on the most demanding projects on the world stage. We are enormously grateful for the confidence the Russian Federation put in our ability to produce a landmark for the new Russia and for the performing arts everywhere,” said Diamond.