History of festival "The Stars of the White Nights" (1993-2000)
The programme of the first festival in 1993 consisted of fourteen performances and concerts. These included three standard repertoire operas (Tchaikovsky´s The Queen of Spades and Eugene Onegin and Rimsky-Korsakov´s Sadko) and two ballets (La Sylphide and Giselle). Already at the next festival in 1994, there were twenty-seven performances and concerts, largely classics of opera and ballet. That was the moment that the festival became unique. Valery Gergiev is at its very heart and soul, his magnetic personality attracting musicians from all over the world.
One of the main characteristics of this festival is its tradition to stage all the premieres of the current season. Over the years, festival premieres have included Verdi´s Aida and Strauss' Salome (1995), Tchaikovsky´s Mazepa and Bizet´s Carmen (1996). Also at the 1996 festival, on two consecutive days, Gergiev conducted different versions of Shostakovich´s opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Katerina Izmailova (which was premiered in 1995). This was an important event, not merely in terms of the festival, but also for the music world as a whole. In 1997, there was Wagner´s Parsifal, heralding the start of the current Wagnerian period at the Mariinsky Theatre, and Musorgsky´s Boris Godunov in the composer´s original orchestration. In 1998, the festival presented another of Wagner´s operas, Der Fliegende Holländer and, in 1999, Lohengrin, the opera through which St Petersburg first became acquainted with Wagner´s works more than a century ago. At the turn of this century as it did at the last, the theatre once more planned a grand production of Wagner´s tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen. At the 2000 festival, the opera Das Rheingold was staged and Die Walküre in 2001. Placido Domingo sang the role of Siegmund in that performance.
The enormous interest in works by the great Sergei Prokofiev has resulted in productions of his operas over the years at the Mariinsky Theatre. The Gambler was staged at the 1996 festival. The 1999 festival saw the premiere of Prokofiev´s opera Semyon Kotko which received four Golden Masks, Russia´s highest theatrical prize. The highlight of the next festival in 2000 proved to be the epic opera War and Peace.
The next year saw an especially large number of premieres and in particular of Verdi´s operas, UNESCO having designated 2001 the Year of Verdi. The Mariinsky Theatre staged productions of Macbeth, Un ballo in maschera and Otello. As part of the festival, there were performances of Francesco Araia´s Tsefal i Prokris and Domenico Cimarosi´s Cleopatra, operas by two 18th century Italian composers who had lived in St Petersburg, thus starting a new series of Treasures of the Mariinsky Theatre.
Ballet premieres at the festival have included Stravinsky´s Svadebka and The Rite of Spring (1997), Serenade to music by Stravinsky (1998), Roland Petit´s ballets Le Jeune homme et la mort and Carmen (1998), Alexei Ratmansky´s ballets (Le Baiser de la fée, Middle Duet and Le Poéme de l´extase in 1999), George Balanchine´s Jewels and Kenneth MacMillan´s Manon (2000). The 2001 festival presented audiences with a new version of Pyotr Tchaikovsky´s ballet The Nutcracker, designed by the famous artist Mikhail Chemiakin and choreographed by the young Kirill Simonov. That festival also restored Dmitry Shostakovich´s ballet legacy, staging three one-act ballets to music written by him - The Young Lady and the Hooligan (choreographed by Konstantin Boyarsky), Leningrad Symphony (choreographed by Igor Belsky and The Bedbug (choreographed by Leonid Yakobson).
Another characteristic of the festival is its diverse concert programmes, including works by contemporary composers as well as classical pieces. Festival programmes from over the years have listed names such as Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Schnittke, Beethoven, Kancheli, Tchaikovsky, Gubaidulina, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov, Sibelius, Tan Dun and Tsemlinsky.
Each year, the Stars of the White Nights sees more and more symphonic and vocal-symphonic works, such as symphonies by Brahms, Mahler, Berlioz and Bruckner, Haydn´s The Creation, Verdi´s Requiem, Carl Orff´s scenic cantata Carmina Burana, Stravinsky´s oratorio Oedipus Rex and Symphony of Psalms, and Scriabin´s Prometheus.
The Stars of the White Nights festival always has a large youth contingent. Over the years, festival audiences have seen the young American conductor George Pekhlivanian, the American Russian Young Artists Orchestra, the Montblanc Philharmonia of the Nations, the Orchestra of the Academia di Santa Cecilia, the San Francisco Youth Orchestra and the Yale Alumni Chorus. Soloists from the Mariinsky Academy of Young Singers and the Young Philharmonic Orchestra have taken part in performances and concerts in recent years.
Many works have been performed for the first time at this festival in St Petersburg. These have included Sophia Gubaidulina´s Concerto for viola and orchestra, written for Yuri Bashmet and performed by him at the 1997 festival, Gubaidulina´s St John´s Passion and Tan Dun´s Water Passion after St Matthew, performed at the festival in 2001, a production of contemporary German composer Siegfried Matthus´ opera Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke, a concert performance of Prokofiev´s early opera Maddalena by Mariinsky Theatre soloists and orchestra and the world premiere of the opera Tsar Demian, written by five Russian composers.