Valery Gergiev, master of all he surveys at St. Petersburg’s renowned Mariinsky Theatre, is a man who famously cannot sit still. Named artistic director and chief conductor in 1988 and promoted to general director in 1996, he has since expanded his portfolio with the construction of an acoustically exemplary new concert hall as well as a second state-of-the-art opera house, complements to the glamorous imperial jewel box he was originally recruited to run. Between performances at home and on tour with the Mariinsky Opera, not to mention music directorships and guest engagements around the world, Gergiev keeps a breakneck schedule, and that is how he likes it.
I won’t say this happens every five minutes, but since the international lockdowns began, Gergiev has called me now and then to let me know what’s playing on Mariinsky TV, a free streaming channel that serves up opera, ballet, and symphonic concerts nonstop. The first time Gergiev rang, the attraction was a rare archival video of Prokofiev’s sprawling War and Peace, graced by an incandescent, very junior ensemble member named Anna Netrebko as the naïve and impulsive Natasha. The next time, Gergiev was recommending Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, jolted to tragic life by Maxim Aksenov, punching way above his weight as Gherman, the doom-struck gambler.