The Bolshoi TheatreRussian: Bol’shoy teatr or Большой театр is a landmark of not only theatrical Moscow but also of Russia as a whole. Located in the very heart of Moscow, close to the Kremlin, it holds opera and ballet performances based on the world’s best classical oeuvres, and the Bolshoi company has been considered one of the world’s leaders for decades. Going to this theatre will definitely be an unforgettable experience, but bear in mind that tickets to the most renowned productions are sold out long before the date of the performance. After the renovation that was finished in 2011, this, Moscow’s oldest public theatre, began to live up to its full potential. It has regained its bygone magnificence and its acoustics as well as the double-headed eagles, the symbol of 19th-century Imperial Russia, are famous around the world. The Bolshoi is rightfully considered one of the most beautiful theatres in Europe today. Besides attending performances, connoisseurs of the history of art also have the opportunity to join guided tours of the theatre and the museum.
OPERA AND BALLET
The history of the Bolshoi Theatre is closely associated with dozens of names that left a deep mark on world culture: Yury Grigorovich, Vladimir Vasilyev, Maya Plisetskaya, Galina Ulanova, Yekaterina Maksimova, Māris Liepa, Galina Vishnevskaya, Zurab Sotkilava, and many other stars of the opera and of the ballet.
According to Tugan Sokhiev, the musical director of the Bolshoi, the Bolshoi is “the first national musical theatre of Russia”. The staples of its repertoire are mostly masterpieces of the Russian musical theatre of the 19th and 20th centuries, for example Russian opera classics such as Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Borodin’s Prince Igor, Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride and The Snow Maiden, and Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District—one of the greatest operas of the 20th century. Some international favourites are also staged here: La Traviata, La Bohème, Carmen, Manon Lescaut, etc.
The permanent Bolshoi ballet company has an exceptionally strong team of soloists. At the same time, the theatre actively attracts iconic performers, particularly prominent Russians such as Anna Netrebko, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Hibla Gerzmava, Ildar Abdrazakov, Olga Peretyatko, and Yekaterina Gubanova.
The Bolshoi sees the mission of its ballet as preserving the classical repertoire and ensuring its masterful performance. Today, it stages the following ballets: The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, La Bayadère by Ludwig Minkus, Georges Balanchine’s Jewels, Onegin to Tchaikovsky’s music, Spartacus by Aram Khachaturian, Legend of Love by Arif Melikov, and others. Svetlana Zakharova is the most reputed prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theatre, the only La Scala étoile among Russian ballet dancers.
The Bolshoi is always eager to present the best pieces of world theatre art to its audience. For this purpose, it invites distinguished European conductors, directors, artists, scenic designers and performers for its own productions as well as hosting guest performances of the world’s major musical theatres (La Scala, Royal Opera House, Hamburg State Opera, etc.).
THE STAGES AND SCHEDULE OF PERFORMANCES
There are three stages in the Bolshoi Theatre: the Historic Stage, the New Stage, and Beethoven Hall. If you are going to the theatre and wishing to see not only a ballet or an opera performance but also the famous theatre building with its splendid hall, you should opt for productions mounted on the Historic Stage. The New Stage constructed in 2002 is located in a separate building to left of the Bolshoi. As for Beethoven Hall, it was built after the renovation of 2011 on the first floor of the Bolshoi Theatre historic building. It now holds concerts and performances for children.
The Bolshoi mounts productions seasonally. For example, The Nutcracker is only staged in winter, in the second half of December and sometimes during the New Year holiday week, too (there are individual repertoires for each season). The famous Swan Lake has been held in autumn (mostly in September) and in January for the last three years.
Tickets to the Historic and New Stages become available three months before the performance and those to Beethoven Hall can be purchased two months in advance. The sale of tickets begins with the pre-sale in box offices, and only then are the tickets left sold through the website and official distributors. Please note that there is an immense demand for iconic performances, so tickets are often sold out during the pre-sale period.
The Bolshoi was built as a private theatre in 1771. It owns its existence to Peter Urusov, the prosecutor appointed by Catherine the GreatEmpress of Russia from 1762 until 1796 to a ten-year privilege of organizing performances, balls, masquerades and other entertainments. Originally, the theatre was named Petrovsky after Petrovka StreetRussian: ulitsa Petrovka or улица Петровка in the centre of Moscow. Later, Urusov invited English entrepreneur Michael Maddox to join the project. Maddox had come to Russia at the age of 19 as an equilibrist and the manager of “mechanical and physical representations”. Petrovsky Theatre became the first public theatre in Moscow. However, its owners were deeply in debt, and in 1805 the theatre was destroyed by fire. After that, the theatre and all its debts were nationalised. The company performed for almost 20 years at different stages until it found its new home at Teatralnaya SquareRussian: Teatralnaya ploshchad or Театральная площадь in 1825. The building was designed by Joseph Bové, the key Moscow architect of that time. It amazed Muscovites with its majestic size, and soon the name acquired a “prefix” to become the Bolshoi“bolshoi” is Russian for “large” or “grand” Petrovsky Theatre. It became the central theatre of Moscow.
The fire of 1853 destroyed the theatre almost completely. The scorched walls and portico columns “adorned” the square for a few years. However, the theatre was restored in record-breaking time (18 months!), appearing before the public in even more grandeur in August 1856 to host the coronation of Alexander IIthe Emperor of Russia from 1855 until his assassination in 1881.
The theatre renovation tender was won by Alberto Cavos, the chief architect of imperial theatres. The new building differed a lot from the previous one: it was almost four metres higher, another pediment was added to the facade, and a cast bronze quadriga was installed instead of Apollo’s troika. This appearance has been preserved until the present day and is recognisable all over the world.
Emperors of Russia lived in Saint Petersburg but kept the ancient tradition of coming to the Kremlin for coronations. The “eighth sacrament” ceremony would be held in Uspensky CathedralRussian: Uspensky Sobor or Успенский собор, after which the Emperor, his guests and retinue would leave Moscow for a solemn celebration in the northern capital. Interestingly, it was decided to celebrate coronations in Moscow after the Bolshoi Theatre was re-opened in 1856. The theatre gave a special performance in honor of the occasion, and the Emperor’s monogram was depicted above the entrance to the imperial box.
Cavos paid a lot of attention to the auditorium, making it six-tier to accommodate 2,300 people. The hall has a shape of a violin, with the orchestra pit situated in the narrow part. Cavos was an ingenious acoustician: each element of décor contributes to the sound. He invented lots of unusual solutions: all panels in the hall are made of fir tree used as a tonewood in violins, cellos and guitars. Mouldings on the balconies are made not of plaster but of papier-mâché, which not only fails to absorb sound but also resonates it. Multiple acoustic cavity resonators are provided in the auditorium. All the decorations and fabric were fully renovated during the 2005–2011 renovation of the historic building.
The hall interior is an elegant union of Renaissance and Byzantine style based on the combination of white, golden and bright raspberry colours. The ultimate pearl in the crown is the magnificent crystal chandelier with tens of thousands of elements. The chandelier is 9 m high and 6 m in diameter, weighing 2,200 kg. It was manufactured for the Bolshoi in France in 1863. 30 years later, the original gas jets were transformed into electric lamps, and the chandelier hasn’t changed since then.
The chandelier is hanging from the center of a fine painting Apollo and the Muses created by academic painter Alexey Titov in the 19th century. Interestingly, the painter included an Easter egg by replacing Polyhymnia, the canonical Muse of religious hymns, by the Muse of pictorial arts he invented. You can see her with a palette and a brush in her hands.
During the renovation, the majesty of the auditorium enfilades was also restored: the Lobby, the White Foyer, the Choral, the Exhibition and the Round and Beethoven Halls. The ceiling paintings were restored in the White Foyer: they might look like chiseled plasterwork, but this is a trick of the light provided by the grisaille technique. The Emperor’s box is entered from the central part of the White Foyer. Above the entrance, you can see the monogram of Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia: the Russian letter “Н” intertwined with the Roman numeral II.
Beethoven Hall and the Round Hall are astoundingly splendid. We can see them today exactly the same as they were in 1895, when they were renovated for the coronation of Nicholas II. After the reconstruction, Beethoven Hall regained its imperial symbols that had been lost during the Soviet era: moulded crowns and the imperial monogram. The walls are upholstered with red fabric, the restoration of which required nearly five years of surveys and renovation works. The red satin was woven manually on Jacquard looms using 19th-century technology. Only 5 or 6 cm of fabric per day could be manufactured using this technique, while 700 m was required to cover the walls of the two halls.
HISTORIC BUILDING GUIDED TOURS
Tickets to the Bolshoi Theatre cost a pretty penny today. If you don’t have enough money or time to see a performance on the Historic Stage, you should pay attention to the theatre tours. Guided tours in English and Russian are run a few times a week in the morning, starting from the central entrance. You’d better get in a queue in advance, as the demand is huge and seats are limited. Box offices open at 11 a.m. Tourists are let in to purchase the tickets (the prices are specified on the official website) and then proceed to a tour, which lasts one hour.
On a tour, you can learn a lot about the history of the Bolshoi. First, tour guides lead their groups through the Lobby halls, explaining their reconstruction and how they were used before the revolution. Then, the tour continues to the splendid historic auditorium. At the end of the tour, you will go up to the fourth-tier balconies, from where an opera or ballet rehearsal can be seen, if you are lucky. Visitors are allowed to take photos of everything except stage rehearsals. The theatre has a museum of its own, but you can’t visit it separately. Exhibitions organised by the museum are held in the Exhibition and Choral Halls and are only available to those with tickets for a performance or a guided tour.
The tour ends at the gift shop on the basement level of the Bolshoi, where you can buy a souvenir. The gift shop is approached through entrance 9A and is accessible to everyone (regardless of having a ticket) from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days per week. A snack bar at the fourth-tier level is open during performances. It has two rooms, one with comfortable sofas and low tables, and the other with high round tables to stand around.© 2016-2018 moscovery.com