Tchaikovsky Night at L’Europe, St Petersburg

Grand Hotel Europe is one of the most prestigious hotels in St Petersburg. Centrally located, this hotel has been a cultural and culinary landmark for over 130 years. Fully equipped for business and leisure guests with the highest expectations, it boasts beautiful bedrooms, fine restaurants, shopping outlets, a beauty salon and much to my excitement, a pastry shop.

We visited on a Friday evening in December; as snowflakes began to fall outside we were relieved to step inside the warm, cosy lobby. After a brief look at the stylish new suites, we sat at the bar for a classic cocktail, while a jazz pianist played in the background. The hotel suits jazz, the old glamorous décor evokes a bygone era of opulent luxury.

The hotel’s main eatery, L’Europe is Russia’s oldest continuously serving restaurant. The elegant art nouveau room is a wonder – one is surrounded by stunning stained glass windows and regal detailing. We were lucky enough to be present for a famed Tchaikovsky Night, which takes place here every Friday – guests enjoy a wonderful performance of music and ballet accompanying the top cuisine.

We were seated at 8pm, at an isolated table close to the small stage. Dimly lit with flickering candles, it was a very intimate and romantic setting. We sampled a range of Russian cuisine which the L’Europe team created with care and innovation. A glass of bubbly was the perfect start to the meal, perking up our tastebuds for the food ahead.

The menu is lengthy and varied with traditional and modern dishes to please every palate. I tried country style Russian blinis filled with pan-fried cabbage and minced beef and served with whipped sour cream, herbs and a hint of garlic. They were like soft spring rolls with a sweet meaty filling and topped with contrasting cream. More international was the grilled scallops with Iberico ham, warm chard, zucchini, green beans and potato, a subtle combination of flavours and textures.

For main course we ordered Beef Stroganoff, which is obligatory when in Russia! This dish can be clumsy and laborious to eat but L’Europe create a refined version, a creamy sauce with high quality meat and topped with delicious crispy onions. The best bit for me was the pile of silky smooth buttery mash which complemented the meat dish. The waiter insisted we try Russian wine which was surprisingly tasty and well matched with the food.

To complete the lovely evening of culture and culinary delights, we shared an indulgent rich chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream and a pot of fresh mint tea. Sophisticated food and dazzling music by talented musicians – you couldn’t hope for a more special night in St Petersburg.

More information and book here.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISSY: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, ROH

The Royal Opera House cinema’s 2014 year ended with a bang last night with an enchanting performance of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The three-act ballet, which premiered on the Covent Garden stage in 2011, glimmered on more than 3,000 screens across 24 countries and provided a wonderfully festive evening for every audience member watching. This production seems perfectly tailored for the screen; it’s digital success owed something to the newness of the production, as it combined classical dance, digital projections and mixed media puppets in an original, film-friendly portrayal of the wacky Lewis Carroll story that everyone knows and loves. Another feature of the production that was strikingly right for the screen was the stunning film-like score composed by Joby Talbot. In the exclusive-to-screen introduction to the ballet by Darcey Bussell cinemagoers were transported backstage and were privy to interviews with many of the cast and crew; here we heard from Talbot about the process of creating the score and the interwoven themes that represented each individual character. These insights into the production greatly enhanced the immersion into the ballet that the screening already provides.

The production started in a 19th Century Oxford garden party where the audience are introduced to the characters that are soon to feature as figments of Alice’s zany dream. The attention to detail throughout the entire production was truly astonishing and also lent itself even more to that of a film. The many dreamy backdrops, designed by Bob Crowley were all stunningly executed. He captured the essence of the off-kilter story and made it a piece of ever-changing visual art. The second act was a magical medley of episodes based around the different beloved characters of the classic story. From the tap-dancing Mad Hatter to the exotic and sultry caterpillar, the Royal Ballet left their distinguished stamp on this production. The Mad Hatter’s tea party was a delight to watch and you can also see a Zoo Nation version of it streamed live tomorrow (18th of December) and if not, on stage over the next few days. If you figure out the difference between a raven and a writing desk there, do let me know, as I am still none the wiser, even after Steven McRae’s astonishing tap dance showcase. Eric Underwood’s portrayal of the Caterpillar was captivating and the blue bedazzled ballet shoes of the long caterpillar body were a spectacle in themselves.

The three stars of the production would have to be Zenaida Yanowsky as The Queen of Hearts, most especially for her hilarious yet overwhelmingly skillful ‘tart adage’ at the beginning of the third act. Federico Bonelli, the pin up of the ballet world, played a Knave of Hearts who would melt any wicked Queen’s heart. Finally, Sarah Lamb, the belle of the ballet, played such a beautiful Alice that you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a 1950s screen siren. Her expressive face and lyrical movements brought the sense of innocence needed for a childhood classic like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Please give yourself the Christmas present of catching the relay screening this Sunday (21st) in a cinema near you and keep an eye on the Royal Opera House website for more treats to come. I for one am becoming ‘curioser and curioser’ to see what they have in store for us in 2015.

More information here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.

Swan Lake, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg

Attending a performance of the English National Ballet’s Nutcracker is a Christmas tradition for me, so when I had the chance to experience Swan Lake in St Petersburg I was thrilled.

Russia has a wonderful theatre and dance culture and Tchaikovsky is the most beloved of all Russian composers, proudly upholding the country’s musical heritage. Tchaikovsky’s most familiar compositions today are his ballets, the Nutcracker and Swan Lake, which attract huge audiences, especially over the festive season.

For grand musical performances in St Petersburg head to the Mariinsky Theatre, where the talented company produce a plethora of shows every season. There are now several buildings which house the shows in order to keep up with the audience demand, this also allows the company to show ballet and opera simultaneously. The old Mariinsky Theatre is without doubt more prestigious and glorious in its design, but the modern Mariinsky II is also very striking and luxurious.

When I visited Swan Lake was performed on the Mariinsky II stage and was a triumph. The music soared from the orchestra pit filling the auditorium and the dancers moved across the stage with precision and grace. This ballet premiered in Moscow in 1877 and still captures the hearts of viewers, young and old.

This fantasy ballet is split into four scenes and follows the love story of Prince Siegfried and his Odette, who is cursed under the spell of the evil magician Rothbart, so that she is a swan by day, a human by night. The spell will only break with the power of devoted love. The dancers in this production were focused throughout dancing with an effortless charm. It was particularly moving to watch the Song of the Swans dance which was a flutter of white feathers and tutus. The only thing that distracted was the constant (forbidden) photography from the certain members of the audience, this seems to be a bit of a trend with the Russian audiences.

A visit to a Mariinsky show is essential when visiting St Petersburg, seeing this beautiful production of Swan Lake was a highlight of my trip.

More information on Swan Lake at the Mariinsky Theatre here.