Maestro Gergiyev, Actor of the World, Dictator, Idol Turns 50

It is said that if a man is talented, he is talented in everything
Ratings of different kinds, both reliable and even very funny, have recently become very popular in Russia. The artistic director and chief conductor of Russia's Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Valery Gergiyev, is amused to see his name placed fourth or fifth in ratings of this kind. It is not clear why, but for some reason it is said that the man can influence the social and political life in the country. This is probably because of society's pressing need for building idols for itself.

The Artist of the World, who turned 50 recently, has won all kinds of prizes and awards and enjoys different titles after his name, starting from "demonic man" to "god." The maestro himself adds fuel to the fire: he is diligently working on his image, which is mostly made up by his talent and partially by rumors and conjectures.

It is said that if a man is talented, he is talented in everything. In his childhood, Valery Gergiyev not only wonderfully played music, he won lots of different contests, from literary to mathematical ones. Probably, Gergiyev's mathematical cast of mind and his analytical capabilities helped the chief conductor of the Mariinsky Theatre to become not only the artistic director of the theatre in 1996, but also its director, which is much more troublesome than an artistic position.
Valery Gergiyev speaks about the early 1990s in a manner resembling stories about the 1942 blockade in Leningrad. "The theater was almost on the verge of collapse. We were paid 3 dollars per month."

At present, the Mariinsky Theater holds one of the world's best opera troupes and stages 4 or 5 premieres per year. These considerable results have been achieved with 10 years of intensive work.

Valery Gergiyev marked his 50th birthday as chief conductor of the Rotterdam symphony orchestra and the chief guest conductor with America's first musical theater, the Metropolitan Opera. In 1993 he organized an annual festival in Mikkely (Finland), and he has been president of the Gergiyev Festival in Rotterdam and of the musical festival in Elite on the Red Sea since 1996. A series of annual gala performances of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and of Mariinsky Theater artists is held in London's Albert Hall on the initiative of the Maestro.

Prague, Bucharest, Maribor, Munich, Budapest, Vienna, Milan, Paris: Is there a city where the name of Valery Gergiyev is unknown? The last ten years of Gergiyev's intensive work in the Mariinsky Theater resulted in 110-120 performances a year. The whole of the classical opera and ballet repertoire was staged within this period, forgotten scores were revived and the opera Boris Godunov was staged near the walls of Vyborg castle. The staging of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen is considered to be the apogee of Gergiyev's work.

If, in the 1960-‘70s, the Bolshoi Theater was the trademark of Soviet culture, now the Moscow theater, divided by staff intrigues and other problems, is a poor competitor to the St. Petersburg one. After decades of opposition between the Bolshoi Theater and the Mariinsky Theater, an armistice was concluded between the two parties (this resulted in an agreement on cooperation between the theaters).

Director of the Bolshoi Theater Anatoly Iksanov says the document was made on the initiative of Valery Gergiyev. As for the latter, he comments upon the fact thus: "Some time ago, the Bolshoi Theater asked us to give them our sheet music, and an agreement was to be concluded for the purpose. Will we have to conclude another document next time when I need some small item from among the stage props of the Moscow theater?" From this logic, it would follow that it would be better to conclude one agreement including all forms of cooperation between the theaters. Mutual concert tours, renovation of the repertoires and lots of applause to artists of the Moscow and St. Petersburg theaters in both Russian capitals - these are the results achieved by signing the agreement.

This undivided authority in the Mariinsky Theater sometimes causes some problems: it may take the theater personnel several days to wait for Valery Gergiyev to come back  to deal with even very trivial problems. The director doesn't delegate his responsibilities to anyone. He is working day and night and goes on one concert tour after another. Gergiyev  travels about the world with 350 artists of the troupe. This intensive regime is certainly very hard on the actors; the Mariinsky Theater director doesn’t conceal the fact that actors sometimes leave the theater. However, as he says himself, he has dismissed nobody over the past ten years. Theater actors may complain about anything, but not about low wages and fees: As Valery Gergiyev says: "The intensity of our concert tours is conditioned by the difficult financial situation in the country: indeed, we are going on more tours that we would do normally."

The Maestro could have concluded profitable contracts long ago and left the Neva riverbanks for some other country. It is sometimes said that his prime actors and soloists could have joined very interesting projects in the world's best theaters. It is even rumored that Gergiyev spoiled the plans of an actor who wanted to conclude a contract with some other theater. However, time goes by, and the next time this very actor about whom the rumors had flown became the key participant in Gergiyev's great plans aimed at realization of an objective he sets himself. And, once again, the doings of the Maestro are looked upon not in an ethical context, but in an context of the world culture.

Much dispute arises in connection with Valery Gergiyev. Some exalted people follow the stereotype of the romantic epoch and sometimes blame him for his mercenary spirit and for usury. These people complain that the booking system in the Mariinsky Theater is under Gergiyev's personal control only. But the Maestro keeps on consolidating his positions in reviving Russian culture, as if he is challenging Europe: "We need no money, but you don't interfere with our work!"

Valery Gergiyev makes a show out of  reconstructing the theater and approves of the construction of a modern cubical building of glass near the historic building of the Mariinsky Theater.

The winner of the contest for the best project for the Mariinsky Theater reconstruction is to be announced in a month, and it is not ruled out that the announcement may give rise to another architectural scandal. However, it is more important for the Maestro that now, in the opera Ruslan and Lyudmila, in the same way as 160 years ago, Chernomor is soaring in the air with the help of a rope. And he thinks it is completely wrong to treat it as a particular St. Petersburg style.

The manner of celebrating his 50th birthday was also very particular: Valery Gergiyev celebrated it as he wanted to himself, no matter that he perfectly understood that more rumors would arise in relation to this. The celebration was held not in Russia's northern capital, whose status as Russian cultural capital is being actively restored on the highest levels. He went to the city of Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia to celebrate the 50th birthday. This certainly meant that everyone who felt one's duty to congratulate Valery Gergiyev on his birthday had to go to North Ossetia for the party.

And people actually went there. The city of Vladikavkaz has never seen so many wonderful guests from all over the world. Being an Ossetian by nationality, Valery Gergiyev not only consolidates the glory of Russian art, but he also defends his personal right to his national background. The birthday celebration in Vladikavkaz goes together with Gergiyev’s traditional Ossetian marriage and his devotion to friendship.

In the present-day situation, it is perfectly evident that the Mariinsky Theater is working wonderfully and is more productive than any other cultural institution in St. Petersburg. Maestro Gergiyev, like the mythical king Midas ,who turned anything into gold, turns any project into art and spreads Russian culture all over the world.

Olga Osinovskaya
Rosbalt news agency

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Author`s name Michael Simpson