Iron Curtains! The Bolshoi’s Dark Side

Ballet’s transcendent form has long been pitted against political intrigue in Russia

When Jack Diamond, the Canadian architect esteemed internationally for his concert halls and opera houses, was chosen to design a new opera house in St. Petersburg in 2009, he did not make too many assumptions about the project. This was wise. His patron for the project was the notoriously aggressive and fickle Valery Gergiev, the legendary head of everything artistic in St. Petersburg: opera company, symphony orchestra, ballet company, even urban arts planning and, who knows, probably the time of day as well. Gergiev was also a close ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, which was both useful and problematic, as the post-modernist French architect Dominique Perrault would very soon find out.

Perrault had already been commissioned for this project, a new opera house that was to stand juxtaposed with the historic Mariinsky Theatre (Mariinsky I) and was envisioned as a magnificent new monument to the glory of...