Valery Gergiev and Putin
NPR did a feature yesterday on the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev and the controversy surrounding his support of President Vladimir Putin. Gergiev’s performances in New York and London have been interrupted by catcalls denouncing Putin’s threat to LGBT people in Russia, especially with the recent promise of arrests for any at the Olympics who seek “to influence Russian youth.”
Gergiev has been the one man band who restored the moribund Kirov Opera in Leningrad to the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. Tchaikovsky conducted in the Mariinsky. Borodin staged his opera “Prince Igor” on this stage. Every great Russian singer and dancer, Nureyev, Ulanova and Kasarina, has appeared at this most beautiful of theaters.
The former Kirov (Stalin renamed the theater for one of his henchman) had fallen on evil times during the last days of the Soviet Union with rats in the cellar and threadbare performances on stage. Gergiev changed all that. The theater itself has been restored and expanded. The Mariinsky is recording and touring Russian opera and everybody else’s opera. It’s fair to say that Gergiev and the Mariinsky’s ascendancy was a done deal before Putin took office. (His role in the KGB may have helped or hurt.)
Outside politics, Gergiev is never dull. These days it’s worth a lot at the box office to have a conductor who can burn the place down musically. His political love match with Putin turned out the hecklers in New York last fall, for him and for Anna Netrebko.
For all this, one hopes that the Olympic athletes can be honored for their commitment and achievement, and that music in Russia will continue to flourish.