When it opens this week, the Mariinsky Theatre II, which joins two other arts buildings that make up the famed Russian arts complex in St. Petersburg, will be one the largest opera houses in the world.
It had a difficult start, as the powers that be at the Mariinsky went through two designers before settling on Canadian architect Diamond Schmitt Architects whose design, while liked by some and criticised by others as being a bit tame, ended up being a palatable choice for the locals; a building that blends both traditional and contemporary architectural ideas with a traditional horseshoe shaped hall set within a modern limestone and glass structure.
Jack Diamond became the go-to-guy after an earlier design by the Parisian architect Dominique Perrault was scrapped for being too progressive and he won the favour of the Mariinsky’s Creative Director, Valery Gergiev, who, after seeing the architect’s Four Season Center in Toronto, urged him to enter the international design competition for the building, which he later won.
Located on the legendary Theatre Square, the Mariinsky II joins the historic Mariinsky Theatre, which dates to 1860, and the Mariinsky Concert Hall, completed in 2006, thus greatly expanding the arts offerings at the complex. Connected to the historic Theatre via a pedestrian bridge over the Kryukov Canal, the New Mariinsky Theatre is intended as a contemporary take on a traditional 18th and 19th century opera house.
The glass and Jura limestone building is designed to be in keeping with the scale of the surrounding buildings, with the goal of forming a continuous streetscape. Large bay windows accommodate panoramic views of the city and the adjacent historic Mariinsky Theatre while the materials give the building an updated contemporary feel, setting it apart from its neighbouring structures.
Inside, the building houses a 2,000-seat opera house and a very large back of house with six stages and rehearsal rooms combined with other support facilities. The auditorium is a traditional horseshoe shape design with three balconies offering optimum acoustics and sight lines. Diamond warmed the hall considerably with onyx finishes and Swarovski crystal lighting that give it a honey coloured glow. “It looks like molten sunlight by day and at night it is backlit”, said Diamond in a recent interview with the Toronto Star.
Opera has always been about ‘seeing and being seen’, and the new Mariinsky Theatre II's 700m facility is no exception. The building’s transparency creates a luminous presence on the street beckoning opera goers in while announcing itself as a new dynamic arts centre to passers-by.