The creative and managerial qualities of the maestro are examined by Paragraph columnist Philippe Fissen.
Valery Gergiev neither confirmed nor denied rumors that he will head the Bolshoi. A troubled economy, a “city within a city,” the Ministry of Culture within the Ministry of Culture.
The rumors grew stronger and turned in a new direction – “Gergiev will not pull it off.” After all, the Bolshoi is a hoo-ha, and the Mariinsky, which Gergiev is not going to abandon, is just a “region”.
The Bolshoi Theater is truly a gigantic structure, starting with its size and continuing with the scale of its scandals, sometimes with criminal overtones. It is one of the ten largest opera houses in the world. And in the field of ballet he is ahead of the rest. By a wide margin.
Our neighbors in the top ten – the Opera Garnier and the Metropolitan – also have ballet companies. But in Europe and overseas they do not reach the number of a hundred dancers. One hundred dancers was a pipe dream for Balanchine, who never managed to recruit them. The famous La Scala, where the former head of the Mariinsky troupe Mahar Vaziev went to the post of ballet director, manages with fifty people.
What’s Big? Get ready. He has 260 dancers. Soloists, luminaries, corps de ballet.
Try to cope with this living and nimble organism. Democracy is simply impossible there. Ballet dancers start their careers early and end quickly, so they use every day of service in the theater to the full extent of their active hormones. We need a dictator.
Such was the great Grigorovich. It was eaten up as soon as signs of a nascent democracy appeared. Then Vladimir Vasiliev, a brilliant artist, a subtle and strong-willed personality, was expelled from the Bolshoi quite quickly. And Urin, who recently retired, had several high-profile scandals, including ballerinas pouring concentrated acid on each other. A strong man, but he is also tired.
So what about Gergiev? And he is just a dictator. The orchestra and theater in St. Petersburg are subordinate to him unquestioningly.
Does this mean that there is stagnation at the Mariinsky? Not at all. New names are replacing each other, which Gergiev gives to perform on the famous stage. Criticism is included with interest in the discussion of decorations, solutions, and features.
“Criticism is only good for wrapping fish in it,” said Balanchine, looking longingly at his missed hundred.
Gergiev’s current enterprise includes the Mariinsky, the New Stage (two theaters in the same block) plus a concert hall, where the program is constantly updated, despite the sanctions and the evil antics of the Metropolitan. The St. Petersburg facilities are accompanied by branches of the Mariinsky, for example in Vladivostok. And about the theater itself, we can add that there are probably one and a half times more ballet dancers there, if you count the reserve cast and mimance, than at the Bolshoi.
The Bolshoi and Mariinsky theaters are unique. They beat all competitors by a body or two in ballet. But even in opera, the theater led by Gergiev (and he headed the orchestra back in 1988) is distinguished not only by the richness of its repertoire of performances, but also by its experimental approach.
A whole constellation of conductors, two orchestras, many productions and festival activity. Gergiev offered the stage to newcomers, for which he was frightened by criticism with smelt wrapped inside and praised by the Western press.
Gergiev loves to conduct himself, and on all stages. Theatergoers know: if Gergiev is at the controls, don’t count on a buffet, there may not be an intermission.
The maestro lived on the plane, sometimes managing to give two performances in St. Petersburg and New York in one day, using the slowness and clumsiness of the planet, which did not correspond to the speed of the maestro himself. Wagner’s “Valery’s Flight” and his faithful musicians touring the world are the talk of the town.
At the same time, Gergiev led, in addition to the theater, several other orchestras in Europe.
Whether he can cope with the Big One is not a question. Is the Bolshoi ready to accept the flow of energy that Gergiev emits?
Uniting the theaters of Moscow and St. Petersburg under one leadership is not a new idea. Continuation of the tradition of the pre-revolutionary directorate of the Imperial Theaters. The Mariinsky, Mikhailovsky and Alexandrinsky in St. Petersburg and the Bolshoi and Maly in the “old capital” were subordinate to her.
St. Petersburg will sympathetically sacrifice its beloved musician and successful leader so that the Bolshoi can shine again, restore splendor not only at the box office and buffets, but also in the repertoire, which has been in decline. Many of the Bolshoi’s productions were purchased or staged in collaboration with theaters from countries that turned out to be unfriendly.
Take Gergiev, dear Muscovites. But not forever. Then return it. We, St. Petersburg residents, feel bad without Gergiev.
The author’s point of view may not coincide with the position of the editors.