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Jack Diamond's Mariinsky II theatre opens

The new Mariinsky II Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, opens this week with a flurry of celebration, including an evening of one-act ballets tonight and a gala concert conducted by artistic director Valery Gergiev on Thursday.

Canadian architect designed new opera hall taking entire block in St. Petersburg

Mariinsky II opens

10 years ago
Duration 4:42
Jean-François Bélanger reports on the opening of the Mariinsky II Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The new Mariinsky II Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, opens this week with a flurry of celebration, including an evening of one-act ballets tonight and a gala concert conducted by artistic director Valery Gergiev on Thursday.

It’s a moment that was hotly anticipated by Russian ballet, music and opera fans and by Canadian architecture firm Diamond & Schmitt, designers of the ambitious project.

Toronto architect Jack Diamond won the commission to design a new home to Russia’s premiere opera, orchestra and ballet companies against international competition, in part because Gergiev was impressed by his Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre in Toronto. Diamond + Schmitt also designed Montreal's Maison Symphonique.

Jack Diamond, the Canadian architect who masterminded the massive project. (Anton Belov/Diamond & Schmitt)

The new theatre, costing about $750 million, takes up one full block — 567,700 square feet — and allows views of the original neoclassical Mariinsky theatre, dating from 1860, right across the river.

The main auditorium has a horseshoe configuration in the tradition of 18th- and 19th-century opera houses and seats 2,000 people. There are also multi-tiered lobbies enclosed in glass and a rooftop amphitheatre for performances during the Mariinsky’s White Nights summer festival. 

"The trick that we’re trying to pull off is to have an authentically contemporary building that fits with the historic context of St.Petersburg," Diamond told CBC News.

The primary concern of his design was excellent acoustics, he added.

The grand staircase in the entrance lobby of the Mariinsky II. (Diamond & Schmitt)

Like the Four Seasons, the Mariinsky is constructed of natural materials, including Jura limestone, an illuminated onyx wall around the auditorium and performance areas lined with wood shaped for the best acoustic experience.

"There is an echo of imperial Russia — of the grandeur of the period — and that is why I chose onyx," Diamond said.

Gergiev said he believes the new theatre will become a St. Petersburg landmark and will help continue the rich Russian heritage of the arts, which includes premieres of works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov and a rich ballet tradition. 

"I think I will be very proud of it when we open," Gergiev said.

"I'm sure that the artists will make it a place which will sound glorious and the productions will look fantastic onstage.

The original Mariinsky Theatre, which is suffering the effects of age, will soon be closed for renovations. 

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