The Kirov Opera Festival at the Met requires some discussion of nomenclature.[1] St. Petersburg’s principal opera house, the Mariinsky, rebuilt in its present form in 1860, was baptized after one of Russia’s empresses; its name, like that of the city itself, then kept changing. The Kirov name derives from that of an assassinated commissar, but in 1991, with the passing of Communism, the name reverted to Mariinsky, except for export purposes, where it is still Kirov.

Under the leadership of its gifted director, the peripatetic, not to say ubiquitous, Valery Gergiev, the Mariinsky has become truly cosmopolitan. Russian operatic productions have tended to be conservative, indeed retrograde, but that has been changing, as the Kirov’s 1992 visit to New York made clear. This time around we were treated to several performances each of Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila,...

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