Under the dynamic leadership of the internationally acclaimed Valery Gergiev, the legendary Kirov Opera in St Petersburg is now one of the world's most sought after, prestigious and highly advanced performing companies with a new generation of virtuoso singer/actors and a brilliant orchestra.
The origins of the Kirov Opera go back to 1860 when, under Czar Alexander II, the first truly great Russian opera house, the Mariinsky Theatre, was built. The agenda was to develop and glorify a new tradition of Russian opera and ballet composition and performance and also attract the finest musicians in the world as guests. Quickly the new Russian Imperial Opera at the Mariinsky Theatre became one of the world's most prestigious companies attracting names such as Verdi, Berlioz and Wagner to work there. The Imperial Opera premiered the operas of all the leading figures of the new Russian generation of composers: Glinka, Darghomysky, Moussorgsky, and then Tschaikovsky. A truly legendary tradition of performance was nurtured.
With the advent of the Russian Revolution, the Imperial Opera became the State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, and, in 1935, the Kirov Opera, in memory of Sergey Kirov, the Leningrad Communist Party Chief who was assassinated that year. During the 20th Century the Kirov Opera's fortunes fluctuated considerably as the Soviet Party, which controlled all the funds for the arts, concentrated its attention on the Bolshoi Opera in Moscow. Then, in the 1980s, under Yuri Temirkanov, the Kirov began to attract attention through its rising standards and the emergence of some notable singers, particularly Sergei Leiferkus. The young assistant music director, Valery Gergiev, was also drawing considerable attention through the drama and discipline of his performances. In 1988, as Temirkanov took up his position as the Leningrad (now St Petersburg) Philharmonic Orchestra's music director, Gergiev was appointed the new music director of the Kirov Opera, and one of the most exciting eras in all operatic history began.
Now known as the Mariinsky Opera, under the overall musical and artistic directorship of Valery Gergiev the company has become a virtuoso body that, virtually uniquely, maintains a regular ensemble of brilliant artists whilst also nurturing the international solo careers of some of its most outstanding singers, such as Galina Gorchakova, Olga Borodina, and Nikolai Putilin. For the first time in Russian operatic history, the company has become both a training ground and a presenter of vital international opportunities for young singers, through breaking away from the longstanding regime of employing artists for life and introducing a more flexible contractual system. Its stars have joined the international opera elite, and yet they and brilliantly talented new young artists perform together at the Mariinsky Theatre. There they take part in a highly eclectic and wide span of productions ranging from the strongly classical to the radically innovative. Valery Gergiev has married novelty with tradition by widening the repertoire and promoting bold new stagings by leading theatre and film directors on the one hand, and returning to the traditional Russian opera sources and resurrecting neglected Russian works on the other. He has also painstakingly developed the Mariinsky Opera Orchestra into one of the world's great virtuoso ensembles that combines artistic brilliance with great discipline.
The Mariinsky Opera has become a highly influential body in the development of operatic performance and is one of the world's most powerful and exciting artistic companies.