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History

Alexander Brullov was commissioned to design the new theatre building. It had to  match the existing ensemble of Mikhailovsky Square, now Arts Square. On 8 November 1833, on the name day of the Grand duke Mikhail, brother of  Emperor Nicholas I, the curtain rose for the first time in the new theatre. The  same year the French troupe, which had previously shared the stage with Russian actors in another recently completed theatre, the Alexandrinsky, moved into the new building. Thus began the eighty-five year-long life of the French Theatre in St  Petersburg. It was run by the Imperial Theatres Company, which was under the direct control of the Ministry of the Imperial Court. Representatives from those two bodies frequented Paris where they found new actors and actresses for employment in Russia. French plays alternated with Russian and German works interspersed with musical parties and concerts. The theatre was the House of  French Culture. Here people perfected their French — «refined, high vogue, elevated to the utmost beauty and elegance» — and became acquainted with the history, literature and art of France. Parisian gossip and jokes abounded.

In 1833, a small group of German artists was invited to perform operas and singspiels. The success was staggering. In 1843 however Italian singers arrived in  St Petersburg, they «outsang» the Germans, most of whom then moved to  Moscow, the rest switching to drama.

In 1859, a new epoch began with the complete refurbishing of the interiors by  Albert Cavos. The purpose was to increase the seating capacity of the theatre. The reopening on 26 November 1859 was described by Théophile Gautier, the  renowned French novelist, who had come to Russia seeking new impressions. He  liked everything, the auditorium, the troupe and felt proud of the fact that «a  theatre where the performance is entirely in French can be filled to capacity». The German troupe competed though.

Beginning in the 1870s, the Mikhailovsky Theatre opened its doors to anyone wishing to perform on its stage — out-of-house performances by other St Petersburg theatres, touring companies and various celebrations and charity shows. In 1894, several performances of the Mariinsky Theatre were transferred to the Mikhailovsky Theatre. Some jokers began referring to the latter as the «Russo-French Theatre of Opera-Ballet». This was the period when Mathilde Kschessinska was dancing, and Fyodor Chaliapin and Medea and Nicholas Figner sang on this stage.

On 6 March 1918, a performance of Il barbiere di Siviglia, based on  Gioacchino Rossini’s comic opera, was given in the premises of the former Mikhailovsky Theatre, which had been abandoned by the French company and its pre-revolutionary public. This event marks the starting point of the modern period of the theatre’s history. Transferred from the Mariinsky stage, the performance of the opera signified the birth of yet another opera house in the city. The first fifteen years in the history of the theatre, from 1918 to the 1932-33 season, was the period of its establishment and quest for its own creative «face». Over these years, a company of opera soloists, soon to include a  ballet troupe, was formed. The development of an individual program aimed at  creating a «laboratory of Soviet opera» thus coincided with the administrative changes and the acquisition of independent status.

The concentration on entertaining and comic material was reflected in a new title that was gained by the theatre in 1920: The State Academic Theatre of Comic Opera. In 1921 the theatre got the name of the Maly Petrograd State Academic Theatre, in 1926 the Leningrad State Academic Maly Opera Theatre (MALEGOT for short). In the winter 1930-31, Fyodor Lopukhov was appointed director of the Maly Ballet. The official birthday of the Maly Ballet was June, 13 1933, when the company premiered Fyodor Lopukhov’s production of  Riccardo Drigo’s ballet Harlequinade. This first performance also introduced the  public to the unique talent of Nikolay Zubkovsky. 1934 saw the premiere of the famous ballet The Bright Stream choreographed by Fyodor Lopukhov to the music by Dmitry Shostakovich. Leonid Lavrovsky was Artistic Director from 1935 to 1938, Vladimir Ponomaryov headed the Maly Ballet until 1941.

Ballets by Leonid Jacobson and Pyotr Gusev, Yury Grigorovich and Boris Eifman, Nikita Dolgushin and Konstantin Boyarsky were staged in the Maly Theatre. In 1963, the theatre received the official status of not only an opera but also a ballet theatre — the Leningrad State Order of Lenin Academic Maly Opera and Ballet Theatre. In 1989, the Maly was again renamed, this time, after the famous Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky.

In 2001, the pre-revolutionary name of the theatre emerged again. In 2007, the original name — Mikhailovsky Theatre — came to the foreground and was added to the one existing since 1991: The St Petersburg Mussorgsky State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre — Mikhailovsky Theatre.