THOUGH AFFECTION FOR THE SIMPLER times of the Soviet Union lingers, Gergiev has a knack for capitalistic enterprise. As general director, he has overseen a wide expansion of the Mariinsky - the various companies now perform about 400 shows a year, and on some days, three different groups can be found on stages on three different continents. Some critics say the talent is spread too thin, but those who travel to St. Petersburg in order to work with Gergiev say he manages to find and train an amazing corps of young, talented musicians and dancers.

Alain Maratrat, a French actor and director who came to the Mariinsky this summer to direct an opera during the White Nights festival, says he has been overwhelmed by the quality of the singers in St. Petersburg. He says they easily surpass the singers he has been scouting at France's finest music academies. He credits Gergiev, in part, for this abundance of talent.

"In this theater he has something very special," Maratrat says. "Now we feel that something is alive here. And I think it's because Gergiev can attract people with quality. I think what is fantastic is his desire. He makes a place inside himself to receive the music, and it's very internal. You see some conductors move, to show that they understand the music, and to show they lead the music, and it's bull. It doesn't mean anything. Music is like a mystery, every time. People are touched by something that makes them bigger, larger, happy. And Gergiev recognizes when this appears."

So how long will Gergiev stay in Russia before moving to capitalize on his fame in the West, like Kirov stalwarts Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov before him? The situation for artists in today’s Russia is quite different, and Gergiev says he enjoys more flexibility and freedom in St. Petersburg than he would find at the helm of another institution, even though he could probably make more money and have fewer headaches abroad. He says there is no reason for him to leave, now that the Mariinsky is on solid financial ground.

“It would be difficult to say that the Mariinsky is not interesting enough, not prestigious enough, did not offer enough money, which is not how I see things, and did not offer enough opportunities, which would be untrue,” Gergiev says. “I have more opportunities here than anywhere else in the world. People say that the infrastructure, the rules, and the financial backing are so much stronger in the West. I would say yes, but we are catching up. If you could show me another institution which has the same dynamics, then I may consider [leaving] my post, but I don’t think you will have an easy time finding another place to compete with this.”

Gregory Katz is a writer based in London. His work has also appeared in Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Condé Nast Traveler.