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In photos: An inside look at Russia's new Canadian-designed, $700-million opera house

The building, which opens May 2, was designed by a Toronto architecture firm

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The Mariinsky II – a new opera house with an estimated cost of $717-million – opens May 2 in St. Petersburg, Russia. It will provide a second mainstage and full production facilities for itself and original Mariinsky Theatre, whose 1860 neoclassical building stands right next door. The building was the creation of Diamond Schmitt, a Toronto-based architecture firm.

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The new 10-level structure is immense – 79,000 square metres, or three times the size of Diamond Schmitt’s Four Seasons Centre in downtown Toronto. Foundation work was already under way when Diamond Schmitt learned that it had won an international competition to design the building.

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An acoustical trial last week, with full orchestra and chorus, drew favourable comment from Izvestia critic Oleg Karmunin, and from Mariinsky artistic director Valery Gergiev, who said, “On the whole, I am very pleased.”

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Karmunin also remarked on the “strong impression” made by a lobby interior “decorated with glowing, honey-yellow onyx, and studded with chandeliers made from Swarovski crystal, boasting a cascade of glass staircases rising into the air.”

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Comment from outside the building, however, has mostly been scathing. Ever since the exterior form became evident at street level, in early February, eminent citizens have slammed the design as dull and undistinguished, more like a supermarket than a new landmark for Russia’s most elegant city.

Gary McCluskie

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Canadian architect Jack Diamond is pictured in front of the construction site in 2010. Diamond has dismissed outside criticism as “frivolous and stupid.” The theatre opens May 2 with three days of opera, ballet and concert performances. Only after that, said Diamond, will St. Petersburg begin to understand what its new theatre is all about.

Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

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