The Mariinsky Theater, also known as the Kirov Opera, is without a doubt one of the few cultural landmarks from the former Soviet Union that needs absolutely no introduction whatsoever. A remarkable symbol of Russian culture the Mariinsky Theater survived the notorious 900-day siege of Saint Petersburg (former Leningrad) as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union which nearly put an end to one of the most distinguished opera houses in the world.
With a massive 1625-seat auditorium the Mariinsky Theater was built to symbolize Russia's return to Europe and of course for a long period of time the enormous wealth of the Romanoff dynasty. After the Soviet Revolution in 1917 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s the Mariinsky Theater hosted some of the greatest ballet dancers of our time such as Rydolph Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Irina Kolpakova, Natalia Makarova, Alla Osipenko, Irina Gensler, Alla Sizova, and Anatoly Sapogov. With its new artistic director Valery Gergiev the famous opera house is once again a place where Russians gather to celebrate their passion for art and ultimately the rich history of their beloved Mother Russia.
In this rather short documentary (approx. 60 minutes) narrated by Richard Thomas, First Run Pictures take us on a somewhat controversial journey at the past, present, and future of the notorious ballet house. Assembled as a collage of interviews, footage from recent ballet and opera performances, and historic information unfortunately Sacred Stage-The Mariinsky Theater fails to deliver a convincing look at this Russian icon. This is one rushed and in my opinion incomplete attempt to explain the history of the famous institution. The chaotic interviews with Valery Gergiev, Placido Domingo, and Geroge Tsypin among others anything but reveal the complicated past of the theater. In fact they fail to reveal how tremendously difficult it was for Gergiev to achieve financial freedom.
I watched this so-called documentary by Joshua Waltezky twice and could not stop thinking how utterly pretentious its composition was. Everything in it felt too westernized, too judgmental, and too static to convince me that the director knew how to capture the rich history of the Mariinsky Theater on film. The uncalled for comparison between the dancing teenagers on the streets of Saint Petersburg and the ballet crew at the opera house is totally out of place and if anything reveals how very little Western directors know about post-Communist Russia.
What really disappoints with Joshua Waltezky's film however is the chronology of the events depicted in this documentary-in less than an hour the director skips from the Romanoff dynasty to the early days of Perestroika and the fall of the Soviet Empire expecting the viewers to grasp what Sacred Stage struggles to explain adequately. There is indeed very little that explicates why the Mariinsky Theater made it through Soviet times and more importantly where the Mariinsky Theater is heading. Quite frankly even if you are an opera aficionado well familiar with Russian history this pseudo-documentary will feel like just another made-for-Western-TV documentary proclaiming the obvious. Which as presented in this film is anything but exciting…
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in a letterboxed 1.78:1 aspect ratio Sacred Stage looks quite well revealing a "digital" look typical for these types of documentaries (the film was shot in HD). Colors are bright and vivid, contrast is excellent, and the print appears to be in excellent condition.
How Does the DVD Sound?
A generic Dolby Surround sound has been provided for this release which in my opinion serves the film just fine. I certainly think that there are no problems with the audio presentation.
I was quite excited when I found out that a documentary about the Mariinsky Theater has been made and could not wait to get my hands on this DVD. In fact, I almost missed it amongst the sea of other noteworthy releases. Well, I am indeed disappointed as Sacred Stage anything but serves the purpose of a documentary feature explaining the rich and complicated history of this Russian cultural icon. I would still recommend that you at least rent this film as some of the more recent footage from the Mariinsky Theater is well-worth a look.