Glittering relaunch for Bolshoi Theater

After six years of meticulous renovations, the curtain at Russia’s famous Bolshoi Theater has risen again. High-profile guests from all over the world have arrived to watch the highly-anticipated gala performance at the landmark new stage live.

­Watch RT's Bolshoi is Back report by Ekaterina Gracheva

­The red-and-gold curtain of the legendary Bolshoi Theater has risen for the first time in six years, revealing a restoration which ranks as the most meticulous and expensive in the history of theater. The renovation, which cost over $700 million, was directly supervised by the Kremlin.

Built in 1825, the iconic theater was almost destroyed by fire 30 years later. It was bombed by the Germans during WWII and was a political gathering place in Soviet times.

The epic renovation of the Bolshoi began in 2005 and had been scheduled for completion in 2008.
However, the work proved more challenging than expected, and a series of deadlines were set and missed. Shortly after the theater closed in 2005, shocked engineers discovered a 30-centimeter-wide crack running through the walls of the building, and the foundations reduced largely to dust. The Bolshoi Theater, it transpired, could have collapsed at any moment.

“Indeed, the building was in a catastrophic state,” admitted Anatoly Iskanov, the Bolshoi’s general director. “The last season before closing the theater, we would admit the audience through side entrances because we were afraid of the portico collapsing. Plus, we would not let people sit in the balconies. The theater had not seen reconstruction in 150 years,” Iksanov explained.

Until the Office of the President took control of the project management, the renovation was a madhouse, with different departments issuing competing directives and working at cross purposes. Prosecutors opened a criminal investigation for possible embezzlement, saying the State had paid a contractor three times for the same work – a total bill of $31 million.  

No expense was spared. Paramount was that the theater be recreated according to the original vision of the Tsars. No detail, even the smallest, was considered too expensive or challenging.
Hundreds of spruce wood panels were imported from the Austrian Alps to replace those ripped out by the Bolsheviks.

Silk decorations were also remade from scratch in a special workshop at a Moscow monastery. And the hammer and sickle which once hung above the stage was replaced with a double-headed eagle, the emblem of the Romanov dynasty, which was given pride of place over the Tsar’s box.

Watch RT's photo gallery of the Bolshoi preparing for the big event

The first guests to officially visit the newly-reopened theater on its first night were Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, the vice president of Brazil, and the heads of Milan’s La Scala theater, the Vienna State Opera and London’s Covent Garden Opera House. 

Italian actress Monica Belucci was among the celebrities who were invited to the gala, and she shared with RT her impressions from her first visit to the Bolshoi Theater.

“It’s so beautiful, so impressive!” Belucci gushed. “It’s my first time here. And I’m so honored to be here tonight and to be invited. I’m really moved, honestly. I have to say moved, because I know this is history, tradition. And I have to say that I love Moscow and I love Russia in general. I’ve been here four times, in Russia. And every time I come, I have the impression that Russian people are so close to the Italian people.”

Monica Bellucci (RT Photo / Marina Zakharova)
Monica Bellucci (RT Photo / Marina Zakharova)

The opening performance was an invitation-only event, with an audience of the wealthy and well-connected hand-picked by the Office of the President.

For those not on the guest list, the opening was broadcast live on a huge TV screen on the Bolshoi's renovated façade.

The Bolshoi will open its 236th season on November 2 with a performance of Mikhail Glinka's opera "Ruslan and Lyudmila," which premiered at the theater in 1846.

­Watch the reopening ceremony of the Bolshoi Theatre. Part 1

­Watch the reopening ceremony of the Bolshoi Theatre. Part 2