Last night I went to see the Kirov Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. This was part of a series called “Petersburg on the Hudson” which made me realize that the Kirov Opera was from St. Petersburg. But it turns out that the Kirov Opera was not always called the Kirov Opera, just as St. Petersburg has not always been called St. Petersburg. In fact, the full history of these names is quite fascinating:
During World War I, the name Saint Petersburg was seen to be too German and the city was renamed Petrograd.
And then it was re-named Leningrad in 1924, only returning back to its original name in 1991. But this confused me because I had thought that the name “Kirov Opera” (as well as the famous Kirov Ballet) had come from place where the troop was from. Turns out it does — it is the name of the theater in which they are both housed in St. Petersburg. But, like the city itself, the theater’s name has a twisted history. Originally it was the “Mariinsky Theater“, and then in 1917 the name was changed to the “Academic State Theatre.” It only go the name “Kirov” in 1935, after the recently assassinated Mayor of Leningrad, Sergei Kirov.
But Kirov wasn’t Sergei Kirov’s original name either! He was born “Sergei Kostrikov” in 1886, and rose to be one of the top members of the Bolsheviks during the civil war. Like other revolutionary leaders, he took a pen name:
The name “Kir” reminded him of a Persian warrior king, and he was to become head of the Bolshevik military administration in Astrakhan.
A protege of Stalin’s he valiantly stood up to Stalin’s purges and even was able to sway the Politburo towards his views. But when Stalin tried to get Kirov to leave Leningrad in 1934, he refused, and was assassinated soon afterwards. Stalin tried to blame the assassination on Trotsky, and so Kirov was not vilified, and even got a theater named after him! Although the theater has now reverted back to its original name, its international fame is still associated with “Kirov” so the Ballet and Opera use “Kirov” abroad and “Mariinsky” at home. Here is a picture of the building. Although I’m still not sure where the original name comes from ….