At home, however, where he is general director of the Mariinsky
Theatre and its famed Kirov Ballet and opera companies, Gergiev is
a teacher - for the most part. He's also the man largely
responsible for keeping St. Petersburg's glorious reputation as a
world center for the arts flourishing after a difficult and
dangerous transition from the Communist era.
The first few years after the Soviet collapse in 1990 were
extremely rocky for the Mariinsky Theatre, in part because
government subsidies to the arts were slashed, and in part because
political enemies tried to sabotage the theater. But Gergiev found
a way forward, and today the theater is expanding on all fronts.
Its revenue has been swelled by the huge increase in visitors to
St. Petersburg - which is much more open to the world than it was
during the Soviet era - and by the money generated by its touring
companies, which regularly pack auditoriums in the United States,
Europe, and Asia. And Gergiev has proved to be something of a
master at finding corporate sponsors, a practice that wasn't
necessary during Soviet times. The result is a theater - and a city
- that is bustling as never before.
Few people who are not politicians, rock stars, or athletic heroes
dominate a city's landscape the way Gergiev does in St. Petersburg.
His picture is on hundreds of billboards and posters advertising
his next performance and the popular annual International Stars of
the White Nights Festival, which celebrates the summer season, when
St. Petersburg's northern skies stay light all night. Gergiev is
using his stature to shepherd the construction of an opera house
and a concert hall, as well as renovations to the 220-year-old
Mariinsky. They should give St. Petersburg the world-class venue he
seeks to stage festivals rivaling those in New York, Salzburg, and
Paris. He sees no reason why the success of Manhattan's Lincoln
Center cannot be matched in St. Petersburg. In Gergiev's view, St.
Petersburg's trove of rare artistic and architectural treasures -
including, of course, the mind-boggling collection at the State
Hermitage Museum - should make it one of the most visited cities in