Noilly Prattle: February 2018

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Europe Summer 2017: Russia 7 – St. Petersburg 1

September 15


the Neva River
Winter Palace - Hermitage
     St. Petersburg, located at the western end of Russia, is a port city situated on the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Finland, about four hours by high speed train, northwest of Moscow. It is the second largest city in Russia with a population of some 5 million inhabitants. The city was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 and bears his name today. St. Petersburg, like Amsterdam and Venice has many waterways and canals running around it and through it, most notably the broad Neva River. The city has undergone a couple of name changes in its history: in 1914 after the Bolshevik revolution St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd, and in 1924 renamed Leningrad in honor of Vladimir Lenin, and back to St. Petersburg after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Peter moved the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 1703 after an assassination attempt in the Kremlin left him fearful of staying in Moscow.

Palace Square - General Staff Building
Palace Square - Winter Palace


St. Isaac's Cathedral
Mikhailovsky Theater
       After two days basically wasted acquiring the cash to pay the rent on our apartment, and although I was still somewhat under the weather, we began to explore St. Petersburg and its transportation system, metro, local buses, the location of various theaters we planned to attend, etc. We made our first exploration of the Winter Palace and Neva River area and made our way to the Mikhailovsky Theater to buy tickets for a Sunday night performance of Mozart's opera “The Marriage of Figaro”.

Mikhailovsky Garden - Russian Museum

Palace Square - the Admiralty

Equestrian Statue of Peter the Great


Kazan Cathedral - designed on the plan of Belini's Vatican portico in Rome
Kazan Cathedral is the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church in St. Petersburg


       We already had tickets bought on line for our first ballet. In the evening I felt well enough and we walked to the Mariinsky II Theater for the ballet Le Corsaire (The Pirate).

Mariinsky II - photo by Александров (Alexandrov)
Mariinsky II - lobby
       The Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg is internationally famous for its ballet performances. That fame is more than justified in my opinion.  A word about the theater itself. The Mariinsky II Theater opened in May 2013. The new building is a modern design with a sumptuously appointed interior right next door to the old 18th Century Mariinsky Theater.

Mariinsky II - auditorium

       The dancers in Le Corsaire were nearly flawless and the male dancer playing Birbanto, the leader of a mutiny aganinst Conrad, the pirate leader, stood out as a supremely accomplished dancer. Although not the title role, he justifiably got the biggest round of applause, even more than the prima ballerina, playing Medora, a slave girl, who was also superb. The performance was magical and fully lived up to our expectations of Russian ballet.

the cast of Le Corsaire taking their bows 
the prima ballerina as the slave girl, Medora, on point
on the left, Birbanto, the mutiny leader -
 a stupendous male dancer

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Europe Summer 2017: Russia 6 – Horror Story

Saint Petersburg – September 13, 2017

central St. Petersburg
     St. Petersburg didn't get off to a good start.

       Our plan was to stay in St. Petersburg for two weeks, attend some operas and ballets and our son Robin would fly in from Tokyo to join us for a few days.

on board the Sapsan (High Speed Train) Moscow to St. Petersburg
      We boarded the Sapsan (high speed train) at Leningrad Station in Moscow for the 4-hour trip to St Petersburg. Were met, as prearranged, by Leonid, the rental apartment owner, at the station. Before we even left the station he informed us that we had to pay the apartment rent in cash, which we didn't have. We had been negligent, it turned out, and had failed to read the terms of the rental agreement which stated that credit cards were not accepted, cash only.

Ulitsa Dekabristov (our street)
green around the gills
        Leonid was friendly but firmly insistent that we get the cash. He drove us to a bank with a Bankomat (ATM) machine before even going to the apartment at 19 Ulitsa Dekabristov. Spent a very frustrating couple of hours (don't ask why) trying to get cash from the machine. The amount we needed to pay the rent exceeded our daily cap for cash withdrawals. We finally managed to get enough for a down payment, told Leonid that we would contact our bank and increase the cap for the next day. He took us, finally, to our ultramodern apartment. Had to spend the rest of the already latish hour contacting our bank in Japan, by expensive cell phone, and eventually, not without much aggravation, got our cap raised to cover the larger withdrawal needed to pay the rent. We were not in a good mood, overtired, and me with a newly acquired cold. Sleepless night for both, tossing and turning.

ultramodern apartment decor
one of a pair of monkeys
       Next morning, September 14, went back to the bank, accom- panied by Leonid hovering in the wings, and finally managed to get a sizable chunk out of the ATM, but still not enough to cover the full rent. Leonid sent an associate the next morning to take us back to the our by now trusty old Bankomat friend where we finally extracted (something not unlike having a tooth pulled) the balance of the rental fee we still owed. 

apartment kitchen

the other monkey


our apartment building, behind the bus

        Having spent all this time in merely dealing with a cash transaction, we did nearly nothing about getting oriented (except go-rounds to and from the Bankomat) in St. Petersburg. Fortunately we had no shows scheduled until September 15, for the ballet Le Corsaire, at the new Mariinsky Theater. Good thing, actually, since we needed a good rest and night's sleep. Under the weather with a cold and exhaustion, we bought some ingredients at the supermarket down the street for some chicken soup for body and soul prepared in our own (rented) kitchen and stayed in.

sunrise the next morning from living room window - promise of a brighter future

Friday, February 2, 2018

Europe Summer 2017: Russia 5 – the Bolshoi Theater - Большо́й теа́тр


Большо́й теа́тр - Bolshoi Theater
     One of our main reasons, aside from a little sightseeing, in going to Moscow and St. Petersburg was to attend some musical performances at two of Russia's best known theaters, The Bolshoi Большо́й теа́тр in Moscow and The Mariinsky Мариинский театр in St Petersburg. Both theaters present operas but are best know for their superb ballet performances. We had the chance to see some of both at these houses and at other smaller theaters in both cities.

оперетта - OPERETTA

оперетта (operetta)
for Grand Cancan
       Just around the corner from our hotel on Kuznetsy Most there was a music hall in an ordinary building that was distinguished as a theater by a large vertical sign on the side of the building that read, simply оперетта (operetta) and a large marquee over the entrance that read Анна Каренина (Anna Karenina). The show that we attended, however, was not Anna Karenina, based on a tragic story of adultery and suicide by Tolstoy, but a lighthearted grab bag of vaudeville sketches, music, dance, songs, acrobatics and comedy that was called Grand Cancan. It was somewhat reminiscent of turn of 20th Century Paris at the height of the Belle Époque. The operetta was great fun. It was wonderfully relaxing and entertaining being back in the theater after two or more years absence with a lively and enchanting show and professional performances by the talented cast.

 the cast of Grand Cancan taking their bows

Большо́й теа́тр - BOLSHOI THEATER

Orchestra and stage of the Bolshoi Theater
chandelier Bolshoi Theater
       A trip to Moscow would not be complete without attending a performance or two at Большо́й теа́тр (Bolshoi Theater)--Big Theater. There were no ballets, for which the Bolshoi is world famous, while we were in Moscow. We attended a performance of the Russian opera Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky. The subject of the opera is the Russian ruler Boris Godunov who reigned as Tsar during the Time of Troubles from 1598 to 1605. The opera was enjoyable. With a prologue and four acts, it is a bit long but fast paced with three intermissions. There is a certain darkness in many Russian operas and Boris Godunov is no exception. The music was heavy but appropriate for the theme and most of the singers were excellent. The performance had an almost Shakespearean feel, especially the histories, but with music. The bass (Dmitry Ulyanov) who played the title role was excellent both in voice and acting. The story is about a guilt ridden boyar (noble), Boris Godunov, who reluctantly became Tsar during Russia's Time of Troubles and was accused of having usurped the throne by murdering Ivan the Terrible's son, the Tsarovitch Dmitry.

for Boris Godunov
matching clothes and curtains

Dmitri Ulyanov as Boris Godunov

the cast of Boris Godunov taking their bows

       All in all it was an interesting contrast between the light operetta Grand Cancan and the heaviness of the Boris Godunov tragedy in which Godunov, in a very dramatic scene, dies in Act Four.


lower Tverskaya Street (sans 870 Festivities)
       In order to work off our somber mood after Boris Godunov, we strolled around nighttime Moscow and got a different perspective from daytime Moscow. Like most very big cities, Moscow is better looking at night than in the daytime.

The Kremlin - entrance to Red Square - left

Kremlin Wall - Troitskaya Tower
guardian angel?

bar on Kuznetsky Most

Tsum Department Store

statue of Sergei Prokoviev
cafe on Kuznetsky Most

Большо́й теа́тр (Bolshoi Theater Square)