'I am a believer. Although I live a secular life and am not a frequent churchgoer, God is always with me," says the principal choirmaster of the Kirov (Mariinsky) Opera Theater, Andrey Petrenko. The renowned opera theater from St. Petersburg - 280 members of the orchestra, chorus and the soloists, headed by maestro Valery Gergiev - will be arriving in Eilat to appear next weekend (January 4 through 6) at the sixth annual Red Sea Classical Music Festival. There, they will be performing in concert form two rarely performed operas - Prokofiev's The Golden Cock and Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini - as well as Verdi's Requiem. In addition, the opera house will present eight chamber concerts at different hotels of the Isrotel chain, the festival's sponsor. A cappella liturgical concerts are an important element of the festival offering, and the vocal programs include Tchaikovsky's Liturgy, Kastalsky's Fraternal Tribute, and selections from Rachmaninov's Vespers. Speaking on the eve of its Eilat tour by phone from London, where the theater is currently on tour, Petrenko notes that uniquely among opera choirs, the Mariinsky choir also performs a vast a cappella repertoire. "Singing a cappella pieces is only for the good, as it makes for more precise and nearly effortless singing a cappella fragments of opera productions." Fraternal Tribute, by Alexander Kastalsky, will have its Israeli premiere at the festival. The piece, also known as the Russian Requiem, was written in 1915 in memory of the fallen Allied soldiers of World War I. "Regretfully, this panikhida (prayer for the dead in Eastern Christianity) is still relevant for our own time and its everlasting wars the world over," sighs Petrenko. "I should note that this is an ecumenical requiem, with fragments from the Anglican, Serbian, Russian Orthodox and other traditions. This makes the piece unique - I've never come across anything like this not only in the Russian but in the entire world repertoire. We performed it in Petersburg a year ago for the first time," says Petrenko, who has served as principal chorus master for Mariinsky since 2000. The duration of Kastalsky's Requiem is about 37 minutes, probably not enough for a concert. As a result, the festival organizers asked Petrenko to add fragments from Rachmaninov's Vespers to the program. "We performed Vespers in Eilat last year with great success," says Petrenko. "The combination of the two pieces in one concert is most interesting, since Rachmaninov regarded Kastalsky as his teacher. It will be interesting to see how the mentor's ideas were developed by the student. " Speaking about Vespers (All-Night Vigil), the conductor relates that during the Soviet period the piece was almost never performed. But he does not find the first post-Soviet renditions of Vesperssatisfactory . "The show-off element is often too strong. Some of the conductors, who just yesterday were Communist party activists, realized that they could advance their career by performing the newly permitted liturgical composition." Petrenko realizes that most of his audience at the Red Sea Festival will not be drawn in by Christian tradition, "but that does not matter. In its spirit, Vespers is close to any human being, whatever his or her confession. It is about love, goodness, creation of the world. And this is what unites people." The Isrotel chain offers various packages for the festival; for more information call 1-800-800-808.