TORONTO – Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the doors to the country’s first new opera house since the 19th century Thursday, and it was a Canadian architect who designed the modern building that has left the people of St. Petersburg divided on whether it’s a work of art or an eyesore.
The 2,000-seat, 80,000-square-feet Mariinsky II sits across from the original Mariinsky Theatre and cost close to $700-million to build; one of the most expensive cultural projects in the world. Fans of the sleek building, highlighted with a glass and limestone exterior, feel the building will help put Russia back on the world stage culturally, while critics have dubbed it the “Mariinsky mall” with some going as far as saying it should be torn down.
Toronto-based architect Jack Diamond, who also masterminded Toronto’s Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre and Montreal’s Maison Symphonique, is proud of his work on the Mariinsky II and calls the accomplishment the “crown” of his career.
“The challenge is how to do a contemporary building in a city of such overwhelmingly important classical architecture. That is the great challenge. And it is in the context of having the historical, venerated Mariinsky Theater of old right next door,” Diamond told Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty.
Valery Gergiev, who headed the project and is considered to be one of the greatest living orchestral conductors, told Reuters “I feel certain that 25 years from now, Mariinsky II will be seen as a St. Petersburg landmark in its own right, recognized for its superb acoustics, dazzling production facilities and unsurpassed level of audience comfort.”
Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker premiered at the original Mariinsky Theatre in 1892 and some hope the Mariinsky II will inspire similar great works in the future.
Check out photos of the Mariinsky II below.
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