The theater allows ballet to take root in Russia
One of the pleasures of a trip to St. Petersburg was an evening at the ballet at the Mariinsky Theater. Not only enjoying Don Quixote danced to the music of Ludwig Minkus, but also the pleasure of being part of the Russian interval experience.
s as well as the local version of sparkling wine – which they maintain can be labeled as champanskoe, as long as they use Cyrillic writing – there is ice cream and a few dainty little sandwiches. Not a peanut or a crunch in sight.
Minkus has been described as one of the founding fathers of Russian ballet music. Under the Czars, there was little exposure to Western culture, so ballet, which had its origins in Italy and France, was a relatively late arrival on the art scene.
But when the armies of Peter the Great gained access to the Baltic Sea and he established the city of St. Petersburg as the capital of Russia, the door was wide open.
Ballet was not an area that would have attracted all composers, but one need only think of Tchaikovsky to appreciate how ballet in Russia took off.
Ludwig Minkus was born in Vienna. He trained as a violinist and moved to St. Petersburg to take up a position with an orchestra. A move to Moscow and the Bolshoi Theater soon followed. I can only imagine how it could have turned out. There has never been much love lost between the two cities. Minkus became the conductor of the Bolshoi Orchestra, alongside his day job as a violin teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, a newcomer to world music schools, dating from 1866. Soon after he was approached to provide the music for a Bolshoi ballet. The choreographer was Marius Petipa, one of the most influential of the time. The result was Don Quixote, its score crossed by a spicy flavor of Spain, the centerpiece of an evening at the Mariinsky.
The collaboration with Petipa would be the achievement of Minkus. Their production was reworked and transported to St. Petersburg. Building on his success in the capital, Minkus was appointed ballet composer in the imperial theaters.
Don Quixote has resonated over the years. Rudolf Nureyev starred in a cinema version in 1973, the first ballet to be produced as a feature film.
It all came back to me when I realized the date tomorrow, because it is the birthday of the great musician synonymous with the Mariinsky Theater, the irrepressible conductor Valery Gergiev.
During the Soviet era, the Mariinsky retained its status but was renamed in honor of a Bolshevik leader Sergei Kirov. You will find his name on the orchestra’s recordings before the fall of the Iron Curtain. And it was as Kirov that the ballet company from St. Petersburg, and then from Leningrad, toured the world.
As the Soviet Empire crumbled, there was a real danger to the Kirov. But Gergiev saved him, and now the Mariinsky once again, Gergiev is his longtime manager. Lots of happy returns, maestro – 68 tomorrow.
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