Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater In-depth Biography
Tsar Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg, now considered Russia's "second city," in 1703 in the marshlands of the Nevsky River on the Gulf of Finland as the capital of a Western-looking Russian Empire.
In keeping with the fashion in Western capitals, Peter began to build a musical establishment at his court, beginning with a 1713 order to assemble a choir for state occasions. In 1729, a court orchestra} was organized, and opera} first appeared in St. Petersburg in 1736.
In 1738 Jean Baptiste Lande}, a French dancing master, founded the city's first dancing school, teaching children of palace servants. Empress Catherine II (the Great) founded the first permanent opera} theater in St. Petersburg. The Bol'shoi Kammenniy Teatr (Grand Stone Theater) opened in 1757 and remained a leading center for musical performances; it should be kept separately in mind from the now more famous Bol'shoi Teatr of Moscow. The court theater had considerable competition from a succession of Italian opera} theaters and raised and lowered in quality. However, the theater's ballet} company, founded by Charles Louis Didelot}, quickly rose to international repute and maintained its standards ever since. It was entirely in touch with the mainstream of European ballet}, giving a performance of the ballet} Giselle} less than a year after its world premiere.
In 1860, the present Mariinsky Theater was built on the site of an older theater and became the home of the imperial ballet} and opera} companies. The court orchestra} also moved into the Mariinsky and rose to international repute under the half-century of leadership of the great conductor} Eduard Napravnik}. It became the theater orchestra} of the Mariinsky companies, while another court orchestra} specifically intended to present concerts, was founded in 1882. This orchestra} eventually became the orchestras} of the St. Petersburg (Leningrad) Philharmonic}.
The Mariinsky became one of the leading opera} theaters of Europe. It was the site of the first performance in Russia of the complete Wagner}ian Ring} cycle, conducted by the greatest maestro of the day, Hans Richter}.
The Mariinsky Ballet became famous throughout Europe as the home of the highest standards of ballet}. Marius Petipa}, the choreographer who was responsible for the great Tchaikovsky} ballets} was succeeded by the innovative Mikhael Fokine}, who is credited with having invented the modern school of classic ballet}. Subsequently Fokine} took the new Russian style of ballet} to the West as the choreographer of Diaghilev}'s Ballets Russes}.
After the October 1917 coup, the new government made the Mariinsky a state institution. In 1935 the theater and its companies were renamed in honor of Sergei M. Kirov, the popular Leningrad Party leader, who had been assassinated on December 1, 1934, and whose death opened the first wave of Stalin's "show trials" of the 1930s.
The 900-day German siege of Leningrad (the city's name under the Soviets) began in 1941 and saw considerable damage to the Kirov Theater and drastic curtailment of its artistic activities, but it regained much of its luster after the war, although taking second place nationally and internationally to Moscow's Bolshoi companies.
The Kirov's standards began to rise under the conductor Yuri Temirkanov} and matched the Bolshoi's reputation under the exciting Valery Gergiev}. After the fall of the Soviet Union, St. Petersburg assumed its original name and, in 1992, the Kirov name was dropped for the original Mariinsky. However, since the company became widely famous in the west under the Kirov name, its ensembles} and companies are also sometimes still called "Kirov," "Mariinsky-Kirov," or some blending of its old and restored names.
~ Joseph Stevenson, All Music Guide