The Hermitage Theater
The Hermitage Theater was the favourite brainchild of Empress Catherine II, who loved theatrical performances and had her first Hermitage theater set up at the Small Hermitage. The Empress found it uncomfortable and in 1783 ordered to have a new theater built next to the Hermitage complex. The architect Giacomo Quarenghi was appointed in charge of the construction. The new theater was joined to the buildings of the Hermitage with an arched passageway. There was no way to enter the theater from the street as there was no entrance. Guests entered the Winter Palace, then walked through the Old Hermitage and the Small Hermitage viewing displays of paintings and only after that reached the Hermitage Theater.
The first stage performance was given in November 1785. Tragedies, comedies and operas by German, French, Italian and Russian playwrights and composers were staged at the Hermitage theater. Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, Pierre Beaumarchais’s The Barber of Seville, Denis Fonvizin’s The Minor (or Young Ignoramus) as well as plays written by Catherine II herself were acted there. Performances were part of imperial receptions.
In Paul I’s reign, the auditorium was linked to the passway to guard barracks. In Alexander I’s reign, the theater was used for court masquerades but later the auditorium was turned to army parade and drill ground. Nicholas I ordered to have theatrical performances resumed but it didn’t prevent the theater from gradual deterioration.
1898 become the year of the second birth of the Hermitage theater. Leonid Sobinov and Feodor Chaliapin sang there. The great Anna Pavlova, world-known Mathilde Kshesinskaya, Legat brothers danced in its ballets. Stage sets were drafted by miriskusniki - members of the artistic movement World of Art Alexandre Benois, Konstantin Somov, and Leon Bakst, who later contributed a lot to the famous Ballets Russes run by Sergei Diaghilev.
When Bolsheviks came to power, Anatoly Lunacharcky ordered that performances should be continued but they had no success and in 1926 the auditorium was used for host lectures of Workers’ University, which made recent workers and peasants familiar to the world of arts. For some period of time the theater was a lecture hall of the Hermitage museum.
After a reconstruction of the 1980s, the theater was reopened for spectators, and a foyer of the Hermitage theater appeared in the arched passway above the Winter canal. In recent years, the theater’s repertoire has mostly classical ballets of Pyotr Tchaikovsky.