Documentary to premiere about opera house in St. Petersburg, Russia – designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects

Opera houses are a particular breed of building. Revered in cities around the world, they are given pride of place in the urban setting. When the Mariinsky opera and ballet company decided to build a new theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia adjacent to its legendary 19th-century home, a drama was set in motion to rival the plot of grand opera.

The Maestro & The Master: Building the New Mariinsky is a one-hour documentary that reveals the pursuit and passion to build the first new opera house in Russia since the Tsars.

Valery Gergiev, general director and artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre, selected Toronto-based Diamond Schmitt Architects in an international design competition. The maestro was impressed with The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, designed by the firm.

Says Jack Diamond, principal with Diamond Schmitt Architects, “It was an honour and a challenge to work in the context of the momentous history of St. Petersburg and the Mariinsky. My forbears emigrated from Tsarist Russia, so this has special significance for me.” 

The maestro and the master builder unite to introduce a contemporary building in the heart of historic St.Petersburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and to bring Mariinsky II to life. Their course would be challenged and at times it seemed the theatre, sensitive in scale and materiality to its setting, would never be realized as designed. And the clock was ticking. The film charts the race to complete the project in time for the gala inauguration.

UpFront Entertainment Inc. of Toronto produced the independent film, which is directed by Yosif Feyginberg. “We were intrigued by the drama that would unfold and by the strong personalities of Valery Gergiev and Jack Diamond as they took on this monumental task,” says executive producer Barbara Barde. “We are grateful to the access the architects provided throughout the entire design and construction of Mariinsky II.”

The film provides a rich context, delving into the archives for rare footage of legendary performers, including Nijinsky, Pavlova, Fyodor Shalyapin, Nureyev and Baryshnikov, and sets the stage for comments and performances by our contemporaries – the divas, prima ballerinas and stars who perform on the stage of Mariinsky II. The film features Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, Michal Petrenko, Maria Guleghina, violinist Leonidas Kavakos and prima ballerinas Ulyana Lapatkina and Diana Vishneva.

“This film is really about how closely architecture and music are connected, how architecture can help music come alive,” says Feyginberg, whose previous award-winning films include a portrayal of Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev and renowned pianist Glenn Gould’s tour of the Soviet Union.

The Maestro & The Master: Building the New Mariinsky has its premiere screening in Toronto tonight at the Design Exchange. It will be broadcast on TVO in Ontario on June 19 at 9 p.m.