Press Clippings

08 February 2006Russians to woo big hitters on gala night — Sophie Brodie, The  Daily Telegraph

RUSSIA’S new business elite will take over London’s Royal Opera House on Sunday at a lavish gala evening to give British investors a taste of what business life can be like in the former Soviet state.

The select group of 300 guests at the glamorous pounds 1,000-a-head event to celebrate the 80th birthday of ballet icon Maya Plisetskaya, will include Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England and other British businessmen.

Mikhail Fridman, who is among Russia’s richest men and owns Alfa Group, has taken over the entire Opera House for the event. Alfa is one of the country’s largest private conglomerates, with interests in telecoms, supermarkets and banking.

Also attending is Russian financier Len Blavatnik, who chairs US-Russian investment firm Access Industries.

Mr Fridman has organised the event via Alfa-Bank, a major investor in oil and gas in Russia. The bank has had a small presence in the UK for about five years but is using the evening, which is estimated to cost millions, as a launch pad to introduce itself to the London market.

Alfa has long had connections with the ballet through its vice-president Aleksandr Gafin, who is on the Bolshoi’s board of trustees and organised the first event to celebrate Ms Plisetskaya’s birthday in Moscow last year. There is to be another concert in Paris next month.

The celebrations are being co-sponsored by vodka company SPI Group, Access Industries and TNK BP, a joint venture between Alfa, Access and BP. British jewellery firm Boodles is also managing part of the event. After a reception of vodka cocktails, blinis and salmon — but no caviar — guests will be treated to a performance by 28 international stars of the Bolshoi, the Royal Ballet, the Mariinsky and the Kirov, the largest number ever to be brought together.

Among the dancers will be Svetlana Zakharova from the Bolshoi and Darcey Bussell and Tamaro from the Royal Ballet. Ms Plisetskaya, whose career has stretched 60 years and who is best known in the UK for her Dying Swan, will also be performing.

After the concert, Mr Fridman will host a VIP dinner in the Floral Hall, decorated with a life-size ice statue of a ballerina. Guests will receive goody-bags provided by Harrods.

Speakers will include the Russian ambassador to the UK, Yuri Fedotov, and Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House. Also enjoying Russian hospitality will be singer Brian Ferry and designer Stephen Webster. It is not clear whether Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich will be among the guests.

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