Celebration of St Petersburg, Royal Opera House, London

Masterpieces from the Mariinsky

Preparing for St Petersburg's tercentenary next year, Valery Gergiev brought a vast selection of the Mariinsky (once Kirov) Theatre's opera, ballet and orchestra to London for two special programmes at Covent Garden: more than 250 performers plus support staff. What an enterprise, but their aim was no less than to celebrate the story of that great theatre and its predecessors, from an opera commissioned in 1787 by Catherine the Great right through to a ballet created this year.

One evening concentrated mainly on the 19th century, the other on the 20th, with early and late Rimsky-Korsakov bridging them. As often as possible, unknown or unfamiliar works were chosen, but even so, many were master- pieces. Imagine being able to follow powerful, deeply moving extracts from Rimsky's Invisible City of Kitezh with the overwhelming Leningrad Symphony, Igor Belsky's ballet to Shostakovich's music. Could there have been a dry eye in the house?

In Kitezh, a cast led by the superbly expressive bass Gennady Bezzubenkov prayed for God to save their city from the Tartars and were rewarded with bells ringing as Kitezh was rendered invisible. No such blessing for St Petersburg/Leningrad in the 1940s, besieged by the Germans for 900 days with 900,000 casualties. The composer and choreographer of Leningrad Symphony were both among the citizens who suffered shelling and starvation; representing the heroic strug- gle in bold, simple, almost abstract form gives it a tremendous impact.

Daria Pavlenko was the ballet's heroine of the night; her account of Leningrad's grief and determination was even more shattering than that of the original performers in the 1960s, and then in Prodigal Son (by St Petersburg's greatest choreographic exile, George Balanchine) she gave a perfectly differentiated but again utterly convincing interpretation of the Siren. Good to see this dramatically evocative work again, new in the Mariinsky repertoire, but once or twice Gergiev ought to have restrained the urge for speed that apparently afflicts him when conducting for dance.

That was apparent also in the odd Snowflakes waltz from the Nutcracker production he commissioned (black and white designs by Mikhail Chemiakin, jerky choreography by Kirill Simonov). But it was interesting to see two numbers by the young choreographer Alexei Ratmansky: a curiously eccentric duet to music by Yuri Khanin, and an adagio from a new modern-dress Cinderella (ingeniously, he shows the heroine anxious about the time, but nobody is wearing a watch). Even more welcome was a duet from Leonid Jacobson's original 1956 production of Spartacus: quietly vivid dances lucidly danced by Yulia Makhalina with Alexander Kurkov.

The programmes were too extensive and diverse even to list all the items, so I'll invidiously single out a few. Of course, there had to be a chorus from Glinka's A Life for the Tsar, the work venerated as almost the first Russian opera, and very fine too. But Cimarosa's now virtually unknown Cleopatra was written for the Hermitage half a century earlier, and a beautiful coloratura solo from it introduced Olga Trifonova, one of several gifted young sopranos. Anna Netrebko was outstanding in her gorgeous aria from Rimsky's The Tsar's Bride – beautifully voiced, and with great charm, too. Best of all was Tatiana Pavlovskaya, in a wonderfully affecting performance of the last scene from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin: absolutely ravishing.

Being Russians, the basses of course took much prominence, above all Nikolai Putin as Prince Igor and Bezzubenkov as Khan Konchak in their sonorous solos in the Polovtsian act of Borodin's opera, before the famous dances which brought together the opera and ballet companies for the first night's finale. The choreography by Michel Fokine (another Mariinsky exile) always looks better in context than when given alone; the phrasing is lighter and faster than in western productions, but no great harm.

I was not one hundred per cent convinced about Anton Rubinstein's Demon, for all Yevgeny Nikitin's persuasive singing; perhaps we need to know more of the work. But another opera virtually unknown here, Prokofiev's Betrothal in a Monastery, is a real find: a neat comedy based on Sheridan's The Duenna: enormous fun, and given with great zest.

No other company, I fear, could match this enterprise in scope, diversity or execution. All credit to Gergiev for the imagination and drive it revealed, and for the quality of the orchestra and chorus sustaining the two shows. A real joy to see, and a tremendous achievement that bodes well for next year's festivals in their home theatre.

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot