The Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, is putting on the final touches before its grand opening May 2. Architect Jack Diamond of Toronto-based Diamond Schmitt Architects designed the new 2,000-seat opera and ballet house, which is adjacent to the original 1860 theater.
Diamond created a building in a manner that was true to its time yet in harmony with its historic context. Historically, he says, the classical structures that make up the bulk of the Russian city’s architecture consist of three main components: a masonry base of between three and six stories; vertically proportioned and regularly spaced fenestration, relieved by colonnaded entrance porticos; and metal roofs with dormer windows, chimneys, and other roof paraphernalia. “The design of the exterior of the Mariinsky is a contemporary expression of exactly those elements,” Diamond notes.
At the new Mariinsky—referenced as Mariinsky II—the masonry base comprises five stories. Diamond describes the vertically proportioned fenestration as “syncopated rather than rhythmically regular,” while the building favors structural glass bay windows in lieu of a classical portico to relieve the façade of monotony and to mark the entrance. “The bay windows afford transparency, a democratic gesture to provide views of the interior for everyone as well as frame views of the city and the original Mariinsky for those inside the building,” according to Diamond.
Mariinsky auditorium. Credit: Gary McCluskie
Inside, the auditorium reflects the traditional horseshoe shape found in opera houses, but with a twist. “Unlike the historic precedent,” Diamond explains, “the three-dimensional geometry of the balconies has been shaped to provide every seat in the house with good sight lines.”
For acoustic design, classical decorative features—the various scales of columns, balcony front curvature, and the bas-relief of putti, garlands, and swagged grapes—affected the refraction of low-, medium-, and high-frequency sounds in historic structures. Diamond achieved the contemporary equivalent in what he calls “a more organic manner” through the curves of the rear wall of solid plaster bands that vary in width, along with the solid wood balcony fronts sculpted and “shingled” across the length of the balcony. This feature, says Diamond, “also avoids the relentless balcony fronts of many modern theatres.” A tiny candelabra of the classic balcony front brings sparkle to the room, as do the crystal lozenges embedded in the grooved balcony fronts.
Mariinksy lobby. Credit: Galina Stolyarova
Diamond also reconsidered the traditional role of public spaces in opera houses. “Once hierarchical in their social divisions, these are now made equivalent whatever level the patron uses,” he says. “Where entrances were previously segregated by class distinction, they are now united in one location.”
Dramatic glass staircases, a simple material palette of wood and plaster, small lighting elements that create sparkle, and a monochromatically warm color scheme complete the look.