St. Petersburg is home to well-known theatres: Mariinsky Theatre, Alexandrinsky Theatre, Mikhailovsky Theatre… This is where most city guests go for watching famous classical ballets. Who hasn’t heard of Nutcracker or Swan Lake? It’s not surprising that city guests include ballet in their must-do list in St. Petersburg. But why not visit the Museum of Theatre and Music in St. Petersburg to know more about theatre history?
If you love theatre, you can just book a ticket to the theatre and enjoy the show in the evening. But we propose to spend your time like a theatrical hedonist! Here is a great 4-step theatre itinerary for you. Let’s go!
1. Stroll Along The Most Symmetrical Street Of Saint Petersburg
I’d recommend beginning your theatre journey on Architect Rossi Street. This is the most symmetrical street in the city. Buildings on the right and on the left side of the street are 100% identical.
The architectural peculiarity is not the only feature of the street. Besides, Architect Rossi Street houses the famous Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet. Many prominent ballet dancers, choreographers and teachers are graduates of the Vaganova Academy. Probably you’ll meet some young ballet students hurrying to their dance lessons.
2. Visit The Saint Petersburg Museum Of Theatre And Music
The Museum of Theatre and Music is located next to Architect Rossi Street. I can frankly say that this museum is what travellers usually call a hidden gem. Firstly, its collections include a variety of unique exhibits, like theatre costumes or private belongings of famous artists. Secondly, expositions involve visitors in interacting, like doing ballet barre exercises. Thirdly, there are no crowds so you’ll be quietly enjoying your tour.
The first striking detail appears on the entry to the exposition. It’s a glass staircase with autographs of prominent Russian actors. Pay attention to it while going up to the 3rd floor.
How did theaters look 300 years ago?
The Museum of Theatre and Music tell us the story of theatre in Russia — from the XVIII century until the present day. We can see detailed models of the first theatre building in St. Petersburg. Besides, there are intricate maquettes of European theatres. We can not only see their decorations but also learn how they were operated.
In the XVIII century, many opera and ballet performances required special stage effects. That’s why theatres comprised complex mechanisms and devices. Changing the scene settings could last up to 2 hours! Can you imagine that?! If not, in the museum you will see how exactly this sophisticated process was held.
The way we watch theatre plays now has nothing to do with the theatre of the XIX century. The technical revolution affected theatres too. Nowadays we spend in theatres 2-3 hours. 200 years ago people should stay in the theatre almost the whole night if they wanted to see the whole play.
As I’ve already mentioned, changing the decorations could take 1 hour. And during this “technical pause”, theatre-goers had diverse kinds of entertainment. For instance, they could listen to music using special music boxes — polyphones. Insert a coin — and a polyphone will play you a charming melody. In the Museum of Theatre, we can see and listen to (!!!) a wonderful ancient polyphone. Though the device is quite old, the quality of its sound is absolutely amazing!
History of Ballet in Russia
As said above, the Museum of Theatre is a pleasant mix of history and entertainment. For instance, we enter the exhibition dedicated to ballet… What do we expect to see? Ballet outfits and pointe shoes, of course.
But that’s not enough. Here you can even try to be a ballet dancer. Multimedia exposition comprises a ballet barre surrounded by mirrors. You stand in front of a big screen and watch the best ballet dancers — Nikolay Tseskaridze, Diana Vishneva, Mikhail Baryshnikov — give you lessons! After a couple of battements tendus and entrechats, balletomanes could continue their tour.
I can’t even tell what is more attractive. There’s a shining glass case with pointe shoes of famous ballerinas. If you’re attentive enough, you’ll notice how the size of those shoes changed with time.
Ballet outfits are exhibited in the same room. Light, aerial, sumptuous tutus for world-known ballets like Swan Lake or Nutcracker.
Besides, there’s a dress and personal belongings of one of the most prominent European ballerinas — Marie Taglioni. She performed in the best European theatres and was extremely popular in the XIX century. When she came to St. Petersburg, her glory reached the highest degree. A legend says that Taglioni’s admirers bought a pair of her shoes, asked to cook them and ate them as a delicacy!
Marie Taglioni is supposed to be the first ballerina to dance on the pointe shoes. Besides, she refused to wear heavy dresses, jewellery and excessive makeup because she wanted to make ballet movements more soaring and flowing… Taglioni’s dress and shoes are also displayed in the Museum of Theatre in St. Petersburg.
Theatre in Russia in the XIX-XX centuries
Next museum rooms show us splendid theatre costumes, manuscripts, posters and paintings made for theatre in the XIX century. They remind me of the time when the theatre was a quintessence of sumptuous appearance and excellent taste.
As soon as we continue our tour and enter the rooms dedicated to the XX century, we feel an immediate change in everything. The role of the theatre changed — so did the theatre’s appearance. It became less luxurious, more provocative but didn’t lose its artistic attractiveness. Fans of graphic design will surely admire posters and sketches of the costumes. Interior designers will appreciate the wooden dome with staircases that allow going up and closely examining all the exhibits, even under the ceiling.
I have to say once more that the museum staff did (and is still doing) great work. The way the exhibits and the rooms themselves are shown and organized requires multiple compliments. The further we go, the more contemporary exhibitions look. As for me, I admired a lot this conception.
An amazing musical instrument from the collection of the Museum of Theatre and Music
By the way, the Museum of Theatre reminded me once more that nothing is new in our world. In one of the rooms of the museum, I noticed an interesting musical instrument — pochette. A pochette is a small violin that could be carried in a pocket (“pochette” is a French word that means a small pocket). In St. Petersburg, I’ve seen street musicians playing the violins looking like a pochette. In fact, nowadays musicians play electric violins. But I suppose that manufacturers of those electric devices didn’t invent a new look of a violin. They just took inspiration from ancient pochettes.
3. Relax In The Theatre Cafe
My tour of the Museum of Theatre and Music was like a hurricane. The amount of new information and impressions were overwhelming.
If after your visit you feel like me (and I’m sure that this is how you’ll feel), come to relax a bit in the small cafe on the ground floor of the Museum. Take a cup of coffee in the cosy atmosphere of warm light, red plush sofas and wooden round tables. Looking through the window, you’ll see the gorgeous white and yellow building — the Alexandrinsky Theatre. This is where you can go to watch a ballet.
4. Watch Ballet In The Alexandrinsky Theatre
Now you are ready to watch a ballet like a pro. I’m sure that after visiting the Museum of Theatre, you’ll be more attentive to what you see on the stage. And feel like a connoisseur!
Alexandrinsky Theatre is situated across the road from the museum. It’s one of the oldest theatres in Russia. Its foundation date — the 30th of August 1756 — is considered the birthday of the Russian Professional Theater.
You can opt for classical Swan Lake Ballet or contemporary psychological ballet Up & Down by Boris Eifman. The choice depends on your taste only. Just be sure to book your tickets in advance.
Do you plan to attend theatres while in Saint Petersburg? Let me know!