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Moscow may have the Kremlin (and yes. it has the Bolshoi) but St. Petersburg is Russia's crowing glory when it comes to the arts. Apart from its best known cultural icon, the Hermitage Museum, this cultural capital is home to theatres known the world over for their quality acoustics, schools and performances -- the Kirov (Mariinsky), the Philharmonic, the Mussorgsky and the Hermitage. Winter and early spring are the seasons for catching a world class performance of Opera, Ballet or classical music at one of these famous theatres.

Ballet and Opera (tel. 866/869 8634; www.balletandopera.com) is a company that specializes in the sale of tickets to performances in St. Petersburg (and Moscow too). It provides detailed programming schedules for the most sought-after productions including opera, ballet, classical concerts and Russian folk performances. Ticket prices are certainly reasonable by western standards (although undoubtedly the prices would seem high for Russians). Some highlights of the current performing arts season include:

  • February 9, 2007 Â? Ludwig Minkus' Ballet "Don Quixote" at the Mariinsky Kirov Ballet and Opera Theatre Â? ticket prices range from $30 to $287.
  • February 14, 2006 Â? Giuseppe Verdi's Opera "La Traviata" at the Mussorgsky (Mikhailovsky) Opera and Classical Ballet Theatre Â? ticket prices range from $44 to $149.
  • February 18, 2007 Â? Peter Tchaikovsky's Ballet "Swan Lake" at the Hermitage Theatre of Classical Russian Ballet Â? ticket price is $129.
  • March 9, 2007 Â? Classical concert -- The Male Choir of St. Petersburg at the Kshesinskaya Mansion Â? ticket price is $39.
  • March 21, 2207 Â? Georges Bizet's Opera "Carmen" at the Mussorgsky (Mikhailovsky) Opera and Classical Ballet Theatre Â? ticket prices range from $44 to $149.
  • March 25, 2007 Â? Classical concert of the St.Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra at the Grand Philharmonic Hall -- ticket prices range from $59 to $99.

All these productions are repeated on various other dates throughout the current season (January to April, 2007). Please check the website for further dates.

Tickets can either be sent to you prior to departure for an additional fee, or they can be delivered to your St. Petersburg address (hotel, apartment, even your cruise ship) for free, plus they have a centrally located office in St. Petersburg and a 24-hour dedicated phone support center. They offer a generous cancellation policy in the event that you are unable to travel.

You can also go to individual venues' websites to peruse their schedules and purchase tickets online like www.mariinsky.ru/en, www.mikhailovsky.ru/e_afisha.htm and www.kirov.com.

Locally based tour company Priora Tours (tel. +7812- 448-6907; www.prioratours.com) has a three-night winter special package valid until March 31, 2007, which fits in perfectly with the Opera/Ballet schedule. The package includes three-nights accommodation in one of the city's better hotels -- the three-star Dostoevsky (www.dostoevsky-hotel.ru), airport transfers, private transportation, a city tour featuring the Peter and Paul Fortress and a tour of the Hermitage museum. This package is priced at $380 per person based on double occupancy or stay at the four-star Petro Palace Hotel (www.petropalacehotel.com) for $447.

St. Petersburg Travel (www.trips2russia.com) offers a "White Nights Arts Festival in St. Petersburg: Opera, Ballet & Classical Music" group tour which will run from June 16 to 23, 2007. This land-only tour is priced at $2495 per person based on double occupancy and includes seven-nights at the three-star St. Petersburg Hotel, breakfast daily, a welcome dinner at the hotel and gala dinner at a downtown restaurant, airport arrival and departure transfers, group transportation, services of professional English-speaking tour guides, sightseeing and a well-designed cultural program that features museum entrance tickets, theatre tours and the best available seats to ballet, music and operatic performances. Highlights include a tour of St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress and Cathedral, a city tour, an evening canal boat ride, a tour of the magnificent 18th century Hermitage Museum which houses over 2,700,000 artifacts, four spectacular nights of theatre performances (ballet, symphony and/or opera), a private visit to the Vaganova Ballet Academy (the training ground for Pavlova, Nijinsky, Balanchine, Nureyev and Baryshnikov), a tour of its Museum, the 18th century Prince Yusupov Palace, the State Russian Museum and a day tour to the city of Pushkin and Catherine's Palace. Add $515 for single supplement.

Allegro Holidays (tel. 800/838-6860; www.allegroholidays.com) has a "St. Petersburg Russia Music Tour City Package for Ballet and Classical Music Lovers." The package includes three-nights accommodation with buffet breakfast, a music tour of  St. Petersburg with private guide and driver including visits to Rimsky-Korsakov Museum, Museum of musical instruments in the Sheremetievsky Palace and the Fyodor Shalyapin Museum, excursion with private guide and car to Catherine Palace and park in Pushkin, one ballet, opera or concert ticket with private transfer to the Mariinsky Theatre or to Mussorgsky or Alexandrinsky Theaters or Ermitazhny (add US$ 145 per person for tickets to Mariinsky Theatre), round-trip private car airport transfer, English speaking guides, taxes and service charges. Prices from now start from $728 staying at the three-star Moskya Hotel or $734 per person from now until until May 14, 2007 staying at the four-star Pribaltyskaya Hotel.

Airfares to St. Petersburg from the U.S. are quite moderate during the winter and early spring of 2007. Travelocity (tel. 888/872-8356; www.travelocity.com) has round-trip airfares from New York starting from $656 flying FinnAir, $709 flying United and Lufthansa and $738 on British Airways Â? all these fares includes taxes and fees and all flights have one-stop. Flights from Boston start from $742 and $761 from Chicago.

St. Petersburg is a sophisticated destination for the discerning traveler Â? even their information websites are set up in a way that makes them world-class information sources. For more information including accommodation options and things to see and do, visit www.petersburgcity.com and www.saint-petersburg.com.

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