This November, Mariinsky Theatre will bring Wagner’s Epic Ring Cycle to Birmingham Hippodrome in a once in a lifetime week of Opera performance. Birmingham Post’s Christopher Morley headed over to St Petersburg to preview this exciting event…
Setting off for St Petersburg wasn’t much fun, what with a 4am wake-up call at Birmingham Airport, and a chaotic transfer at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. But the Air France flight onwards was wonderful, with a real meal as well (!).
St Petersburg was just emerging from the winter, the frozen-over canals in this Venice of the North just beginning to show tiny cracks, the magnificent Neva river already half-thawed, with seabirds perched on the edge of the ice hopefully scavenging, and an optimistic fisherman casting his line down into the newly-released waters from the apex of the main bridge.
This is such an elegant city, very reminiscent of Stockholm (they are both Baltic-situated), and a mixture of Mother Russia (onion-topped churches) and sophisticated Europe. What I particularly liked about it was its organisation of the many pedestrian crossings, arrows telling us which side to follow, and with countdown displays telling us how long was left before we might be mowed down.
And so I arrived at the purpose of my trip, the campus which holds both the original Mariinsky Theatre (what a gold-leaf jewel of an opera-house that is!) and its spankingly new grandchild, not yet a year old, glowing with opalesque warmth (LED backlighting making us forget the darkness of a north Russian winter), and entertaining a glittering retinue of some of the most stylish dressers, both male and female, you could ever hope to see.
Not just adults; I was there to catch Siegfried and Gotterdammerung, the last two episodes of Wagner’s epic Ring tetralogy, and was amazed to see tiny little youngsters there, girls dressed in their party best, boys grave and decorous, all happy to sit through five hours of demanding music.
There were also teenaged courting couples (“wanna come to the Ring with me?”), bless their cultured hearts. The Russians have got their attitude to culture right; perhaps the further west one goes, the more philistine and materialistic becomes the valuation of the arts.
Valery Gergiev, the super-conductor who bestrides the world stage always approaches music with such dedicated humility and his Ring interpretation was a fascinating experience which audiences in Birmingham will share in November. The setting and costuming evoke mythological resonances of long ago, and the musical performances fly on the wings of Wagner’s genius.
All these thoughts were with me as I flew back. And this time the transfer at Charles de Gaulle was brilliant — as had, yet again, been the Air France inflight meal.