St. Petersburg Museum of Theatre and Music

St. Petersburg Museum Of Theatre And Music, or How To Visit Theatre Like A Pro

by Anna de Nord
15 comments 992 views

St. Petersburg is a home for 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 to visit the Museum of Theatre and Music in St. Petersburg to know more about theatre history?

Crown of the Swan Princess. 
From the collection of the Museum of Theatre and Music in St. Petersburg, Russia
Crown of the Swan Princess.
From the collection of the Museum of Theatre and Music in St. Petersburg, Russia

No doubt, you can just book a ticket to the theatre and enjoy the show in the evening. But if you want to spend your time like a true theatrical hedonist, here’s an extended 4-step theatre programme for you:


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.

Expositions of the Museum of Theatre and Music lead us through the story of theatre in Russia
Expositions of the Museum of Theatre and Music lead us through the story of theatre in Russia

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.

What did theaters look like 300 years ago?

The Museum of Theatre and Music tell us the story of theatre in Russia — from the XVIII century until present days. 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.

Reconstruction of the performance "Le Malade Imaginaire" in Versailles in 1674
Reconstruction of the performance “Le Malade Imaginaire” in Versailles in 1674

In the XVIII century, many opera and ballet plays already required special stage effects. That’s why theatres comprised complex mechanisms and devices. Changing the scene setting could last up to 2 hours! Can you imagine that?! If not, in the museum you will see yourself 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. 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 kind 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!

Polyphone from the collection of the Museum of Theatre and Music in St. Petersburg, russia
This wooden armoire is an ancient music box — a polyphone

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 yourself 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.

Pointe shoes of famous ballerinas with their autographs
Pointe shoes of famous ballerinas with their autographs

Ballet outfits are exhibited in the same room. Light, aerial, sumptuous tutus for world known ballets like Swan Lake or Nutcracker.

Costumes for the main characters of the Swan Lake ballet
Costumes for the main characters of the Swan Lake ballet

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!

Ballet dress and personal belonging of famous ballerina Marie Taglioni in the Museum of Theatre and Music in St. Petersburg, Russia
Ballet dress and personal belonging of famous ballerina Marie Taglioni

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 XIX-XX centuries

Next museum rooms show us splendid theatre costumes, manuscripts, posters and paintings made for theatre in the XIX century. They remind 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 his artistic attractiveness. Fans of graphic design will surely admire posters and sketches of the costumes. Interior designers will appreciate the wooden dome with staircases which allow going up and closely examine all the exhibits, even under the ceiling.

Exhibition of the Museum of Theatre dedicated to the XX century theatre
Exhibition of the Museum of Theatre dedicated to the XX century theatre

I have to say once more that the museum staff did (and is still doing) a 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 which could be carried in a pocket (“pochette” is a French word which 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.

Pochette violin
This small violin’s name is pochette. It is also called “dancing master’s violin”

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 was overwhelming.

Diaghilev Cafe is a cozy place for a cup of coffee after visiting the Museum of Theatre
Diaghilev Cafe is a cozy place for a cup of coffee after visiting the Museum of Theatre

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 as 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.

By the way, the Museum of Theatre and Music is included to St. Petersburg Card. St Petersburg Card helps to save money while visiting the city’s attractions. Click here to know more about this project.

15 comments

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15 comments

Kristine Nicole Alessandra 27.05.2019 - 10:46 am

This is a must visit museum if I ever get to travel to Russia. I have so much respect and admiration for ballerinas. They dedication they have for their craft is just beyond my imagination!

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Michael David Oyco 27.05.2019 - 12:18 pm

Knowing the history of the place really adds something to the experience. Thanks for sharing them. Looking forward on visiting them in person

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melissa major 27.05.2019 - 9:34 pm

Looks like an amazing place to visit if you love theatre! It sure has lots of rich history for sure. I will have to visit one day

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Dalene Ekirapa 28.05.2019 - 12:47 pm

Rossi Street must be very attractive, thanks to all the architectural eye behind it. Anyway, since I’m such a fan of history, I would love to be at such a historical theratre and get to see old pics of the place too. Some coffee at the Theatre cafe would be amust too!

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Anna de Nord 03.06.2019 - 11:34 am

Thanks, Dalene! Visiting museums is sometimes so overwhelming that it requires a good after-visit relax (with a cup of tea and a good cake) 🙂

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Dalene Ekirapa 05.06.2019 - 12:55 am

Couldn’t agree more!

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Sharvina.y 28.05.2019 - 2:12 pm

Wow! A great description of interesting places to visit!! I remember learning ballet as a child. I’d love to visit these places to learn more.

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Alexithymia_Shubhi 29.05.2019 - 11:01 am

Ballet, music and theater are my favorites. I am amazed to see the ballet shoes with autographs. I hope to visit this museum in future. After reading this, I am sure it will be a wonderful experience.

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Anna de Nord 03.06.2019 - 11:32 am

Thank you! Some things look more interesting when we see them closer. And autographs are always of a great value 🙂

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Clarice 29.05.2019 - 7:30 pm

This is a brilliant idea. I would be nice to learn more about their history. Your post just gave us a good reason to visit since my daughter is planning to take up theater and arts.

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Anna de Nord 03.06.2019 - 11:30 am

Thanks, Clarice! I hope the visit will be inspiring for your daughter ))

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fashionandstylepolice 30.05.2019 - 12:26 am

Interesting place here. I would love to visit a theatre one day. It has been on my to-do list for years now.

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Anna de Nord 03.06.2019 - 11:27 am

Definitely, theatre is a place to visit. Probably, ballet and opera are the most impressive (and could be seen in any language which is an important feature). Though musicals are good too ))

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thestyletune 31.05.2019 - 1:18 pm

Wow its spectacular! I would absolutely enjoy the ballerina outfits and shoes! Yes i could notice the shoes became bigger over time!

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Anna de Nord 03.06.2019 - 11:24 am

Yes, everything changes: and theatres, and plays, and even ballerinas! ))

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