Russia's historic Bolshoi Theatre finally reopens
After six years of a painstaking $700-million-plus restoration that was plagued by financial scandals, the historic Russian State Academic Bolshoi Theatre reopened Friday with a gala concert attended by politicians and celebrities from all over the world.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev opened the gala, which was broadcast live on a screen outside the theater, on Russian television, the Internet and in movie theaters in 36 countries. Top Russian and foreign opera and ballet stars, including Violeta Urmana, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Natalie Dessay, performed in the two-hour long concert. The exterior of the theater was elaborately illuminated in different designs.
In his opening speech, Medvedev called the Bolshoi “one of our greatest national brands.”
Speaking about the restoration of the Bolshoi, which has burned down and suffered bombing throughout its 235-year history, Medvedev said the country “has always found the money to keep the Bolshoi in such a proper condition.”
“I am absolutely sure that everything that has been done will for many more years serve the generations of our citizens, all those who love the Bolshoi Theatre and inspire new miracles,” he said.
The gala began when the elaborately designed red and gold curtain rose and the stunned audience saw an orange Kamaz truck rolling across the stage, followed by scores of men and women wearing construction overalls and helmets. Suddenly they stopped, faced the auditorium and sang “Glory!” a chorus from Mikhail Glinka’s opera “Life for the Czar.”
Most welcomed the restoration, including Irina Dolzhenko, a mezzo-soprano soloist who sang Friday night.
“My heart is singing with happiness as I am returning to my home I first entered back in 1996,” she said.
The feeling of elation prevailing that day was not, however, unanimously shared.
"[The then, and most likely next, president] Vladimir Putin personally promised me six years ago that I would return to our historical stage in three years,” Nikolay Tsiskaridze, a premier dancer of the Bolshoi said in an earlier interview. “Six years later I see everywhere cheap substitutes for the original pieces of the former interiors, parquet floors in many corridors replaced with ceramic tiles, original bronze candelabrum missing from the walls and rehearsal auditoriums so small that if you raise a ballerina in your arms she is risking breaking her head!”
Tsiskaridze complained that he was kicked off the gala's program in response to his criticism.
The theater’s space has been more than doubled to almost 780,000 square feet from the original 340,000-plus as the building expanded about 79 feet deep into the ground, where a new performance venue called Beethoven Hall was created for small-scale productions.
The theater’s 236th opera and ballet seasons on the historical Bolshoi stage will open early next month with the premieres of Mikhail Glinka’s opera “Ruslan and Ludmila” and Pyotr Tchaikovsky's ballet “The Sleeping Beauty,” starring American David Hallberg as a Bolshoi premier dancer.
In 2005 when repair workers first examined the Bolshoi, they discovered that the landmark building could collapse, “fold up like a house of cards at any moment,” said Mikhail Sidorov, spokesman for the reconstruction’s general contractor company, Summa Capital.
In the four following years, the general architect in charge of the reconstruction quit, half a dozen repair chiefs were fired and dozens of companies involved in the repair were replaced as the state’s Audit Chamber found the expenditures grossly exceeding the budget, launching an investigation.
All that seemed in the distant past this week as the dancers, singers, musicians and theater workers started to get comfortable in their old-new home.
The company’s general director Anatoly Iksanov said to a Russian news service, “I saw their delightful amazement and their moist eyes when they first entered the historical building after a long break and saw this beauty and luxury of the resurrected Bolshoi Theatre.”
-- Sergei L. Loiko, reporting from Moscow
Photo: Opening night of the restored Bolshoi Theater. Credit: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters, top, and Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images