Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre brings to mind intrigue, pain and beauty. As one of Russia’s great international cultural symbols, the theatre has been a reflection of the country itself. The Petrovsky, the first theatre built on the spot of the current Bolshoi, was founded in the 1770’s by Michael Maddox, an English tightrope walker who had gone to Russia to seek his fortune. After burning down in 1805, it was taken over by the Tsar's Theatre Directorate making it an official government theatre. The great fire of 1812 destroyed the new wooden building when Napoleon’s troops briefly took control of the city. In 1825, the Bolshoi returned to the spot of Maddox's theatre, and a grand new building designed by the Russian-Italian architect, Joseph Bové. Fire struck yet again in the 1850’s, and the only remaining features from the 1825 theatre today are the eight legendary cream-colored columns. The last major reconstruction was inaugurated in 1856, coinciding with the coronation of Tzar Alexander II and up until 2005 no major repairs had taken place. With the theatre near collapse, the restoration and refurbishment project became a matter of state. Over the years, the project has been under constant scrutiny by the government and the public especially as delays, scandals and overspending became fodder for the international press.
Work to return a monument such as the Bolshoi to its original 19th century glory is no easy task. Each day 3,600 designers, architects, restorers, artists, sculptors, engineers, acousticians, fitters and other specialists worked painstakingly on the building. A country-wide search brought in 162 goldsmiths from all over Russia when not enough were found in Moscow. Almost eight pounds of gold leaf, applied in the thinnest of layers, have been used to cover the ornate papier-mâché patterns that adorn each of the theatre's dozens of boxes. Besides the on-site specialists, more than a thousand experts worked in off-site restoration workshops. Additional space was created in a new underground structure, more than doubling the building space and scientific restoration integrated the historical area with the installation of the latest technical equipment all the while preserving the historical appearance of the building as an architectural monument. The Audience Hall has regained its initial beauty, combining the brilliance of Renaissance and Byzantine styles. White and raspberry-red colors mix with light, gold and plaster arabesques giving the hall the look of a fairy-tale palace and allowing visitors to feel like 19th century theatergoers.
As final polishing is being completed and the seating arrangements confirmed, the grand opening of the historic Bolshoi Theatre is scheduled for October 28th with the presence of President Dmitry Medvedev and a gala concert of international stars and artists of the Bolshoi Theatre. On November 2nd the 236th season of the Bolshoi Theatre opens with the premiere of “Ruslan and Lyudmila” by Mikhail Glinka and the ballet “The Sleeping Beauty ” with music by Peter Tchaikovsky.
Columned facade of Bolshoi Theatre