SOCHI, February 6 (RIA Novosti) – Organizers of the Sochi Winter Olympics are hoping a spectacular opening ceremony will get the criticism-beleaguered Games off to a flying start Friday at the Fisht stadium.
Millions of dollars have been spent on the ceremony orchestrated by Konstantin Ernst, the influential director of Russia’s Channel One, and participants have been sworn to secrecy.
The benchmark for opening ceremonies is that of the 2012 London Summer Games, directed by filmmaker Danny Boyle, which won plaudits from critics and fans alike and surprised spectators by keeping a lid beforehand on what and who would appear in the show.
Russian organizers have also maintained a tight grip on information about the ceremony.
One Olympics volunteer who had attended the final rehearsal gave a thumbs-up sign and smiled when asked about the ceremony, and said: “It was amazing, great, but I can't say anything about it.”
The only leak in the last week was from faux-lesbian Russian pop duo tATu, who said they were reforming for the ceremony, only to later delete a tweet and an announcement on Facebook. Britain’s Spice Girls famously reformed for the London ceremony.
But with less than 24 hours to go until the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Games, some details have slipped out.
After all, rehearsing in a stadium with a capacity of 45,000 in a city of 340,000 means that a lot of people have seen some of Friday’s show.
Indeed, of six people fairly randomly approached Thursday, four had been to the final rehearsal on February 4, all of them said they loved it and three were willing to talk about what they had seen.
“It was simply fantastic,” said housewife Yekaterina Andreyeva. “I had high hopes, but it exceeded my expectations.”
The rehearsal only covered part of the real show that will be beamed live around the world.
We were told that they had kept some secrets from us, said one Olympic Park worker who declined to give her name, but judging by the rehearsal there will definitely be a run-through of Russian history.
“It shows all of Russian history, apart from the revolution,” said a smiling Yury, another Olympic Park worker, who declined to give his surname. “There is no Lenin or Stalin.”
Among the scenes depicted are the 14th-century Battle of Kulikovo that saw Russians defeat their Golden Horde rulers for the first time, the epic war with Napoleon's forces and World War II.
Izvestia newspaper previously reported that Peter the Great and a Gogolesque troika would also make an appearance.
However, two of the three spectators willing to comment also said there was a section dedicated to the industrialization of the country in the 1930s under Stalin, a section likely to cause controversy if it depicts the positive side of the country's new industry but fails to show the human cost. Millions of people died during Stalin's push to turn the Soviet Union into an industrial power.
The opening ceremony of the London Games famously showed the British industrial revolution as a rolling sea of countryside replaced by factories and steam engines.
Those who had seen the final rehearsal in Sochi said there were a lot of special effects and that some of the action took place above the audience, with performers flying past on wires.
“I had to crane my neck to see,” said Andreyeva.
One of Andreyeva's favorite parts, she said, was a scene in which a soldier danced a waltz from the iconic 1970s Soviet movie “A Hunting Accident.”
“That waltz is part of our culture,” said Andreyeva. “It is so powerful.”
At the rehearsal, extras filled in for the athletes and dignitaries.
“Instead of the president there was some other guy,” said the female Olympic Park worker.
Few of the musicians and groups that will play on the night were there, though Yury did say that Na-Na, a famous 1990s boy band, made an appearance. None of the others interviewed remembered that part.
There was one hint that tATu may take part after all. When the Russian Olympic athletes were introduced, one of tATu’s best known hits – “Not Gonna Get Us” – blasted around the stadium, said the female Olympic employee.
There are also some clues as to who the other special guests will be.
The team in London had a somewhat easier job of concealing the identities of the stars due to appear in the opening ceremony.
Paul McCartney or the Spice Girls could have been in London in August 2012 for any number of reasons, but if you spot a Russian star in Sochi on the eve of the Games then there is a good chance that come Friday evening, you will see them in the Fisht stadium.
It only took a short walk around Sochi on Wednesday to bump into tennis champ Maria Sharapova and former heavyweight boxer Nikolai Valuev.
A crowd of young kids flocked around Sharapova on Thursday at the tennis school where she first played the game that has made her famous – and made her millions. She is also in town to commentate on the Olympic Games for US broadcaster NBC.
Sharapova lived in Sochi for four years until the age of six, and used to practice against the wall at the club with her father. She remembered how she would play in the cold.
“I was in a fur coat and you had all of those tourists walking by thinking that my father and I were crazy," she said.
Sharapova is taking part in the opening ceremony, she told RIA Novosti, but refused to say what she would do. Not even an invitation to mime her role rather than talk about it could persuade her to open up.
On Thursday, Buranovskiye Babushki – the elderly ethno-pop girl group that was a hit at Eurovision 2012 – turned up in Sochi and also seem likely contenders to perform at the ceremony.
Andreyeva will not go to the opening ceremony, but said she had fond memories of the rehearsal and of the audience when leaving the stadium. “Nobody pushed anyone, everyone smiled,” she said.