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At the Mariinsky

Many still refer to Russia’s imperial opera and ballet as Kirov, the name it was given during the Soviet era. But the Mariinsky reclaimed its traditional name in 1992 and it has since been a beacon in St. Petersburg’s post-Communist cultural revival. Under multitalented director Valery Gergiev, whose wild-eyed energy appears never to flag (even with his additional responsibilities as principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic and guest conductor of New York’s Metropolitan Opera), the legendary company is embracing its heritage and looking to modernize.

On the main stage, in the theater’s historic neoclassical building, the 225th season opens with Dmitry Tcherniakov’s staging of Mikhail Glinka’s A Life for the Czar. At the age of 36, Tcherniakov is arguably the country’s most talented and prolific young opera director, known for his collaborations with the Mariinsky, the Bolshoi in Moscow, and Berlin’s Staatsoper. On November 29, in the new 1,100-seat concert hall (with acoustics by Yasuhisa Toyota) built in an old warehouse, the Mariinsky Opera premières Mozart’s Magic Flute in Russian. Gergiev has said that he hopes to attract a younger audience by presenting works in their native tongue. And for those who haven’t heard opera’s sexy superstar Anna Netrebko, there’s a chance this fall on the very stage where she launched her career. On November 28 she performs in La Traviata.

The 225-year-old ballet, which has produced perhaps the most famous dancers in the world—among them Baryshnikov, Nureyev, and Semionova—has two young primas who wear the mantle: Ulyana Lopatkina and Diana Vishneva. The lanky Lopatkina, recognized for her remarkable fluidity and serenity, appears in her signature Swan Lake on November 15. Vishneva, famed for her fiery interpretations, performs November 23 in The Legend of Love, choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich, and La Bayadère on November 29. If you’re arriving in the spring, the Mariinsky International Ballet Festival, which runs March 13 to 23, is a weeklong celebration of the craft, with dancers from the Bolshoi, the Opéra de Paris, Milan’s La Scala, and London’s Royal Ballet on the main stage. But, in addition to seeing what happens onstage, you can arrange for an eye-opening trip behind the curtain by calling the theater information office (7-812/326-4141). Note: All scheduled performance dates are tentative.

A Mariinsky II?

Plans to build a second major theater, dubbed Mariinsky II, have hit a roadblock. French architect Dominique Perrault’s black marble building, encased in gold-tinted glass, won a competition in 2003. In January, however, the government suspended the contract because of budget concerns. Official word is that a modified version of Perrault’s design will break ground soon, but no one’s holding their breath. Meanwhile, the Mariinsky announced in June that by 2011, New Holland Island, a nearby warehouse district, will be converted into a cultural center with a new amphitheater for additional productions.