The Audience at The Mariinsky

Who Goes to The Mariinsky?
The old Mariinsky is one of the main touristic attractions of St Petersburg. I would wildly guess that around 10% of the audience at the old stage is composed of tourists. The majority of the tourists who go to the Mariinsky go there accidentally rather than because of the opera or the ballet. However, I did get to meet a few tourists who were in St Petersburg specifically because of the opera.
Nevertheless, the audience at the Mariinsky is predominantly composed of Russians. These people are from all ages and there is a very generous proportion of young people—even relatively to New York’s Met. The reason for this is because some universities offer good seats at very low rates for their students. Ironically, a friend of mine told me he was paying 1,000 rubles for a stellar-cast Tosca whereas the people who were sitting by his side were paying five times more. But the main reason why young people go the Mariinsky is because it is considered to be very fashionable. There are very few people at the Mariinsky who actually care for art and that clearly shows up in the audience’s behavior.

The Kind of Behavior You Will Find.
Most of the people well until their 40s will take a picture outside of the theater; then they take more pictures after going to the cloakroom; then they take pictures and make short videos during the performance so that they can prove that they were sitting in those seats by posting the videos and the pictures on social networks. The general attitude towards art is very saddening. Remember one of my Sad Stories: The Tsar’s Box #1? Actually I complained to the theater’s administration about people taking pictures. Believe it or not, a few days later, the message “Sound and picture recording is strictly forbidden” was changed to a more substantive message at the old Mariinsky. The Mariinsky-2, whose beautiful golden wall is a landmark for social network profile pictures, took no action. Unfortunately, after the announcement was changed at the old Mariinsky, the audience’s behavior became no better during my remaining months in Russia. In Russian works, I find that it is also very common to talk during the preludes and entr’actes. Curiously enough, there isn’t a lot of coughing around. But here is the general picture: little respect for the arts and a lot of showing-off. Which makes no sense after all because there is little dressing up habit and tickets are not very expensive. Some things you just don’t understand!
You will also find poor behavior from tourists such as the one from Sad Stories: The Tsar’s Box #2 below.

Applause at The Mariinsky.
There is always a “cheerleading team” from the conservatoire but apart from that, there is little enthusiasm during applause. This “cheerleading team” is often found at the Mariinsky-2 and is usually very inconvenient, playfully clapping after the music starts. Also, consistently with the lack of passion for the art that I had previously pointed out, the largest ovation usually goes to the leading singers—and not the best ones. It is rather awkward sometimes because the casting is often poor; you will often see comprimario singers singing better than the protagonists.

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How to Dress for the Mariinsky

The Rule of No Rule at All. 
That is basically it; no dress code. You will see everything at the Mariinsky—from jeans and sneakers to business casual. Suits and night gowns will be there as well. Women are dressier than men and finding young ladies in full gowns with companions wearing jeans and sneakers is very usual.

The Tourist Look. 
There is no such thing as tourist look at the Mariinsky. Some tourists wear jeans and travel shoes and others are more thoughtful than that. Nothing will feel really uncomfortable at the Mariinsky, even though I am told that you won’t see male gala attire even in gala performances. This discussion could be entailed to that of The Audience at The Mariinsky, which is presented in a separate blog post.

My Opinion. 
I’m rather conservative in matters of dressing for the opera. As the artistic director of the Royal Opera House once put it, you can wear jeans—but you will be missing out on the celebration effect of a beautiful tradition.

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How To Buy Tickets for The Mariinsky

Choosing Your Tickets.
If you are traveling specifically because of the opera or the ballet; or if going to the Mariinsky is one of the main reasons of your journey, you wouldn’t like to get to the theatre and get stuck with poor seats. And believe me; there are a lot of them. Learn more about avoiding them on my post about Where To Seat At The Mariinsky.

In Favor of Buying Online.
Official online tickets are usually your best alternative. All seats available at the box office are available online—except for the Tsar’s Box on occasion. Buying online is good because it enables the buyer to directly compare the available seats and choose his/her seats. Registration on the Mariinsky website is required and payment is made by credit card. I have done this process almost 30 times and never had problems. PayPal is not accepted as of March 2015.
In the process of buying, you will be prompted to choose either Full Rate or Special Rate. The latter doesn’t apply to you unless you are a Russian citizen, are living permanently in Russia, officially working there or have a Russian student card. Basically this means that foreign tourists must pay the Full Rate.
You can either print your own tickets or get them from the box office. You may be required to show your passport if you go to the box office. Unless you’re either going for the Tsar’s Box or you’re officially studying in Russia and are looking for student bargains, online tickets are your best option. (Last updated in April, 2015).

Advice on Buying From The Box Office.
I don’t advise you to buy tickets directly from the box office. The language barrier may make the difference between you being told that a performance is sold out and “we still have a seat in the Tsar’s Box.” This situation actually happened to me once.

Tickets for Sold-Out Performances.
I know it sounds like a cliché, but I did tell you that most performances would sell out, didn’t I? Anyway, here are the two classic solutions: either hope for someone selling a ticket outside of the theatre or buy a ticket from a reseller. There is usually someone waving a ticket around trying to get rid of it because of that partner who didn’t come or some other reason; but you may have trouble spotting these people and there will most likely be language barrier issues. I accidentally bumped into a professional ticket reseller who could speak perfect English once. Every now and then when I needed tickets, he would sell them to me. He would overcharge me anywhere between 20 to 30% (it may have been more sometimes) but his seats were usually good and he has partners who can help him to find tickets. Unfortunately for us, it looks like he has quit the business as of October 2017 but I suspect it shouldn't be too hard to find someone else if you arrive 1 hour before curtain time and pay attention just outside the main entrance of the theatre (go closer to the box office at the Mariinsky-2). If you are buying a ticket from any reseller, make sure it is a Full Rate official one—otherwise you will risk not being admitted into the auditorium. Also, try to have the reseller show you the seats in map by the box office. The best seats at the Mariinsky will never cost beyond 110 euros and you are being taken advantage of if you pay more than 40 euros for a sub-prime seat.   If you need a reliable reseller’s contact, send me a comment with your email below. (If it’s urgent, send me a comment and not an email because I check for comments more often than I do for email.)

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Where to Seat at the Mariinsky

Different People, Different Tastes.
Some years ago, I preferred seating on the back so that I could easily read the surtitles. I am now a more experienced opera-goer and lately I have been trying to avoid looking at the surtitles because it prevents me from focusing on the dramatic thread. Moreover, I trust the power of the music more than the text. Therefore, I now prefer the first few rows of the stalls. But it is entirely up to you to decide where you want to seat, keeping in mind that the majority of the seats at the old Mariinsky are bad seats. Keep reading to find all that you need to know about this topic.

Old Mariinsky vs. Mariinsky-2
The two opera houses couldn’t be more different from each other. Virtually all seats are "good" at the Mariinsky-2 whereas most seats are bad at the old stage.

Don’t Take Your Chances With Seating.
Because you will most likely end up losing. Being a reasonably tall guy, I can promise you that at least 4 out of 5 times you seat behind the first row of the stalls, you will have heads significantly obstructing your view at the Old Mariinsky. Be reasonable—the Mariinsky is not that expensive after all and you will very easily get into terrible seats if you’re not willing to invest some 3,200 rubles. Also, buy your tickets on time because most performances will practically sell out (I didn’t believe it at first but it is true) and you don’t want to end up buying overpriced tickets from a reseller. (Learn more on the Buying Tickets for The Mariinsky post.)

Avoid Seating on the Back.
In all cases, avoid the back rows because they are far away from the stage and it is very likely that you will get heads in front of you; also, there may be a photographer making noise next to you. Check my Sad Stories below.

My Personal Choices if I Were You.
1) At the Old House.  If you are a tourist (unless you have a Russian student ID), you will have to pay a full price ticket. That means that the first 15 rows or so in the stalls have the same price. My advice is to sit on the first row so that you at least won’t have to deal with the heads for sure. Unless you’re watching maestro Gergiev or Pavel Smelkov, I cannot promise that the conductor won’t be noisy. Bear in mind that you will have heads virtually everywhere in the stalls except for the first row. You will even have heads in the central boxes, 1st row, parterre level. If you're going for the ballet, the first row of any balcony, near but not contiguous to the Tsar's Box, will be a good choice.
2) At the Mariinsky-2.  The answer is easy. All seats are good but my personal favorites are rows 4-6 in the Stalls, dead center. You can also give a shot to the dress circle, row 1. The acoustics are great in the back of the auditorium. Productions that don’t require a huge orchestra will have additional rows (A, B/Б and C). I wouldn’t sit there if I were you because you will have to deal with heads in front of you. (Check the section About Surtitles below.)

About Surtitles.
Forget about surtitles unless you’re watching a Russian opera. All non-Russian operas will be surtitled in Russian only. As a rule of thumb, don’t seat in front of row 4 at the Mariinsky-2 if you care about the surtitles; the first row will do fine at the old stage.

The Tsar’s Box.
Sitting on the Tsar’s Box is considered a must-do by many online advisors. Personally, I think it is an overrated experience and I don’t advise it because (1) it is expensive, (2) seats of equivalent quality are available at lower rates and (3) I have several sad stories about sitting on the Tsar’s Box. Check Sad Story #1 below and the post on The Audience at The Mariinsky for another. I would advise you to just ask the lady at the entrance of the Tsar’s Box to let you take a sneak peek during the interval; I have seen many people doing this and the ushers will usually let you in.
But if you insist on sitting there, here’s what you need to know. First, the Tsar’s Box is always reserved until a few days or a couple of weeks before the performance, should a diplomatic commission want to sit there. Sometimes availability will be shown online; other times you will have to ask directly in a ticket office. Ticket offices are at the opera houses and in most places reading Касса or КACCA in the main streets. Also, don’t seat on the Tsar’s Box unless it is on the first row. You will understand why when you see it.

Budget Seats?
If you are on a tight budget, here is a secret about the Old Mariinsky. The best seats in the cost-quality category are in the 3rd row (yes, 3rd; not 2nd) of the first few central Stalls Boxes. You will save about 30%. The seats are not too comfortable but they have NO heads. You may have to deal with a chandelier though. At the Mariinsky-2, any seat will be fine if it matches your budget. Thank me later.

Why You Don’t Want to Be Late.
Unless you have that typical Russian skill called, hem, bribing, you will have to sit in the balcony if you’re late. (Paying "facilitation fees" is possible and I have heard of people who did it several times). It can be an interesting experience if it is at the Mariinsky-2, which has awesome acoustics up there. However, sitting in the 19th-century wooden benches with people making all sorts of noise and more latecomers coming in at the Old Mariinsky, with restricted view, you can take it from me—you don’t want to be late.

Extended Advice on Seating.
There are some seats that look better than they actually are. I have marked some of them in red on the map, meaning that I would never seat there again. The green seats are the recommended ones. The seats that I haven't assigned to a color: either I have never tried them or just would not risk sitting there if I were you.

Buying Tickets.
For tips on buying tickets, using the Internet platform and resellers, please check my post about it by this link.

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How to Get to The Mariinsky: Accommodation and Traveling

As far as I know, there are not many hotels near the Mariinsky because most of the tourists want to stay closer to Admiralteskaya or Nevsky Prospekt. The Mariinsky is not exactly main-interest downtown even though it is one of the top touristic attractions. P.Z.’s advice might vary provided the objectives of every reader. Nevertheless, assuming the readers are tourists, P.Z. would advise them to choose their hotel independently from the location of the opera house. In most of the cases, taking a taxi to the Mariinsky would be the wisest choice. So just choose your hotel according to your budget and main touristic attractions and get a taxi to the Mariinsky. Learn more about this on How to Get to The Mariinsky: Transportation.  

What To Do in St Petersburg?
There are so many more things to see other than the opera in St Petersburg. You will be missing out on the trip if you don’t see the Neva and its façades at night, the bridges when they’re open, the Cathedral of the Savior on The Spilled Blood, the Fortress, Peterhoff—just to name a few of the beautiful attractions. There are also lots of other things to do in St P; just buy a touristic prospect and it will most likely have everything you need to know. Don’t go just because of the opera because you will be amazed by the architecture—unfortunately most probably not by the performances. Two of classics at both the old Mariinsky and the Mikhailovsky are Eugene Onegin and Swan Lake and are must-see repertoire. More information will be available on my How To Choose Your Operas post.

When to Travel to St Petersburg?
Paradoxically, I would say that the best time to be in St Petersburg is precisely when the Mariinsky is closed. At least if you want to find good weather. St P is a problem during snow time because the snow is very dirty downtown and the cleaning service is not sufficient. So, I would say that the best time to travel to St Petersburg is just either before the Mariinsky closes or after it re-opens. I would prefer the first. However, the best performances will be in December because apparently many of the great Russian singers will be back for holidays. More info on How To Choose Your Operas.
Don’t forget that every non-Russian citizen needs a visa to pass the border. I have heard of many people (mainly Italians) who had serious problems in having their visas issued; make sure you have a visa by the time you start booking hotels and buying tickets.

Withdrawing Money. 
The Russian word for ATM is bankomat. As far as the Mariinsky is concerned, as of January 2015, there is one ATM at the entrance of the old Mariinsky. There is no ATM at the Mariinsky-2 and the bars of both opera houses do no not accept credit card.

How to Get to The Mariinsky: Transportation

The Best Guess: Just Go Out Early and Take a Taxi.
As of March 2015, getting to the Mariinsky can be a tricky thing. The old house and the second stage are in less than 5 minutes of walking distance from each other. Even though they are both well served by buses coming from West, most hotels are to the East of the opera houses. Moreover, there is no Metro (subway) station in less than 20 minutes’ walking distance from the Mariinsky. Unless you (1) are planning on leaving to the opera 2 hours before curtain time, (2) are bringing a smartphone with an Internet connection, (3) speak good Russian and (4) the weather is good, believe me—you would be better off by taking a decently-priced taxi.

Taking the Metro?

The current best alternatives for taking the Metro are Sadovaya, Sennaya Polschad, Spasskaya and Admiralteskaya. However, these are not totally advisable because—again—they are at 20 minutes’ walking distance from the theatre. Unless you have a smartphone and an Internet connection, you will most likely get lost and probably be late for the performance. Latecomers will sit in Balcony until the first intermission. Also, one needs some time to calm down before seeing an opera; running 5 minutes before the opera is usually not a good idea. Unfortunately, I’m talking from experience. Check my Sad Stories below for illustration.
This information is to be updated because there are now plans to extend the Metro service to the opera houses, which usually receive some 4,000 visitors every night. If when you go to St. Petersburg you do find a Metro station called Teatralnaya—that will be your stop.

The Easy and Safe Way to Use Public Transportation.
Saint Petersburg has public transportation everywhere. There is the Metro; there are regular buses and marshrutkii. All those options are fairly priced and will beat the price of any taxi hands down. If you are planning on taking public transportation, I advise you to install a free app called WikiRoutes. It will only work with an Internet connection. Click on the magnifying glass; on field A, choose моё местоположение (“my location”) and write “Teatralnaya ploshchad’” on field B. When you have an Internet access, the app will give you the instructions on the best combinations of buses and marshrutkii to the Mariinsky. You may want to get acquainted to pictures of the opera houses, which you can find abundantly on Google. Unless you can do all this or get very specific and easy instructions from the hotel desk on how to get to the theatre, I again advise you against taking the metro or a bus.

A Word of Advice on Taxi Services.
In Russia, everyone who drives a car is a potential taxi. Unless you have proficient skills in Russian, if you flag down a taxi in the street, there is a 99% chance that you will be overpriced. In my first days in Russia, I got to pay 10 times the normal fare for some small rides. The only way one can go around this is by calling reputable taxi companies or by having them called by your hotel desk. From experience, I can say this will still often lead to overpricing and other delays. If you have a smartphone, I strongly advise you to install the Uber app. You can choose any language you want and it will get you decently priced taxis which you can spot on a map of the city and then rate the service. You can choose your pickup location and your destination directly on the map. You will have to provide your credit card info to the company for automatic debits, which may sound scary, but this is actually rather safe because the company is U.S.-based. The invoices will be sent to your email address. However, you must have an Internet connection to access the app—either at your hotel or at the Mariinsky’s free Wifi. Though the service is not flaw-free, I would say it worked for me in 90% of the cases—and that still beats other taxis hands down. If you do embrace Uber, I also advise you to call it to the old Mariinsky because it is difficult for them to stop in front of the Mariinsky-2.
Should you have no alternative to flagging down a so-called “gypsy taxi,” keep in mind that if you are in a touristic area, 300 rubles is considered overpricing as of March 2015 and you won’t pay less than 150 for sure. Don’t walk into a taxi with more than one driver; if you take a gypsy taxi, do so at your own risk.

The Mikhailovsky.
This is the exception. If you’re going to the Mikhailovsky, I advise you to take the Metro and walk 5-10 minutes from the north exit of Gostiny Dvor. The opera house is downtown just outside the Russian Museum and near the famous Nevsky Prospect. However, a taxi might be a good idea if it is very cold outside.

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