The eyes of the footballing world will be focused on Saint Petersburg next summer, as the opening match and final of the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 are being held here. In the build-up to this historic event, opera singer and Mariinsky Theatre soloist Vasily Gerello spoke to FIFA.com about what the tournament means for the city on the Neva River.
"First of all, it's a truly worldwide event," explained the famous baritone, who holds the prestigious title of People's Artist of Russia. "People often experience turmoil in their everyday lives and always need an excuse for celebrations and positive emotions to distract themselves from the bad aspects. The Confederations Cup is the perfect celebration, a celebration of sport. There will be a lot of visitors and they will see this magnificent city and our amazing country; they will understand that wonderful people live here – normal, honest and genuine people. We cannot wait to welcome everyone to Saint Petersburg for the Confederations Cup.
"As for the locals," Gerello continued, "the Confederations Cup is yet another chance to fall in love with football. I fell in love with the sport many, many years ago. As far back as I can remember, I've always played football – in the courtyard, in our garden, at school, at sports grounds, at the conservatory, everywhere! Even after I became a successful singer, I didn't give up training. Even now I'd happily do some keepie-uppies!
"In my opinion, the beauty of football is summed up by two things. Firstly, it's a true sport and, secondly, it's extremely beautiful and similar to music. How? Passion. Passion is an essential quality of music, just as it is in football. Sincere, wild and animalistic passion. Complete unity of the soul and understanding of one's self can only happen in music or sport."
Gerello moved to Russia's northern capital in the 1980s in order to study at the Leningrad Conservatory and has stayed in Saint Petersburg ever since. Asking him which team he supports is a silly question.
"There's no need to ask anyone who they support in Saint Petersburg, me included!" Vasily laughed. "Remember how the folk song goes? 'My beloved city can sleep quietly...' Petersburg, it's OK, I'm with you. Zenit are the best! Every time our team plays is a memorable event for me. Even when Zenit lose, I'm not disappointed. This is sport, this is a game, this is life. I don't understand those fans who immediately after a defeat seem like they hate their team and shower it with insults! Football is like a family. If you argue with your wife, you're not going to walk out on the family straight away and throw everything up in the air. No, if you're a fan and you stay true to your team, this love will last until the end."
Finally, in his role as Official Ambassador for Saint Petersburg at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 and 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, Gerello signed off by inviting football fans from all over the world to this remarkable city.
"If a fan comes here, even just for two or three days, then like it or not they are obliged to come to our Mariinsky Theatre!" he declared. "When I sing in shows, I'm always happy to see famous athletes in the audience. People often say here that athletes aren't always very educated. Come to my concerts and, I assure you, you'll see this is far from the case. On the contrary, many are very educated, intelligent and smart individuals, and we can learn a lot from them.
"So guys, for those of you who are coming to the Confederations Cup, here's the programme: Mariinsky Theatre, Bolshoi Zal Philharmonia and, of course, the Hermitage. Visit these three places and you definitely won't be disappointed. Afterwards, you can come to my place as well! My table is always full!"