Bring on the Bolshoi: Moscow's Famous Theater Reopens

by Anne Merritt Oct 28, 2011
It once sat crumbling and looted. Now, the Bolshoi is back.

I saw the Bolshoi theater in 2006 on a giddy backpacker’s walk through Russia. My travelmate and I were keen for a Russian performance. Some ballet, an orchestra, a taste of Russia’s arts. At the Bolshoi, we saw scaffolding. Lots of it. “It’s been that way for years,” a hostel worker told us later. “Damnit,” we said “let’s just go to the circus.”

After being closed for decades, the Bolshoi Theater is opening its doors once more, with sweet acoustics, plush decor, and a whole lotta hype.

While it remained a Moscow landmark, the Bolshoi’s beauty waned in the 20th century. The Soviet government used and abused the place, damaging the acoustics during renovations and cementing the orchestra pit. After the Bolshevik revolution, looters made off with much of the Bolshoi’s gold décor.

The building sat neglected until this renovation project began in 2005, with almost 4000 engineers, construction workers and designers working on the Bolshoi. Yes, much of the building was cracked, they blew the budget once or twice, some allegations of embezzlement flew around, and the project took three years longer than anticipated. Still, the Bolshoi is back.

Now, much of the theater’s old opulence has been restored, with moldings re-gilded and rich red drapes hanging once more in the balconies. The renovated Bolshoi has a new changeable stage, with coating that absorbs sound for ballet performances, and one that reflects sound for operas and orchestras.

On Friday, October 28th, a creme-de-la-creme gala will be held to celebrate the reopening. President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin will both be attending, along with some of Russia’s most iconic ballet dancers. The opening performance will be broadcast live in theaters throughout the world, as well as on screens set up outside the theater.

In my books, that’s better than a night at the circus any day.

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