7 of the world’s greatest ballet & opera stars who graced Bolshoi stage over 240 fabulous years

The building of the State Academic Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. © Vladimir Vyatkin
With Russia’s Bolshoi Theater celebrating its 240th anniversary, RT takes a look at a few of the many artists from an array of performers who grew to international stardom from its stage, or who made frequent guest appearances on its playbill.

Anna Pavlova

Anna Pavlova was a prima ballerina of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most famous for her performance of the Dying Swan at Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, she won the hearts of millions as the principal artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev, which gained her international recognition. It is believed that her last words were “prepare my Dying Swan costume!”
 

Vaslav Nijinsky

Vaslav Nijinsky was a Russian-born ballet dancer of legendary fame, renowned worldwide for his spectacular leaps and sensitive interpretations. Nijinsky performed as the star of the Mariinsky Ballet, as well as a guest star at the Bolshoi Ballet. He appeared as Albrecht in 'Giselle', and as the princes in 'Swan Lake' and 'The Sleeping Beauty'. In 1909, Sergei Diaghilev made Nijinsky the premier dancer with the Ballets Russes. His fame was so widespread that Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Jean Cocteau and Auguste Rodin all created portraits of Nijinsky. 

Galina Ulanova

Frequently named as one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century, Galina Ulanova was transferred to the Bolshoi from Leningrad by Joseph Stalin to become its prima ballerina for many years. Touring the world stage with the Bolshoi, she was immediately hailed as one of the greatest ballerinas since Pavlova. She was noted for her lyrical grace and beauty and the emotion of her superb dancing.

Mikhail Baryshnikov

Mikhail Baryshnikov, the greatest dancer of his generation, defected from the Soviet Union to Canada in 1974 following a performance by the Bolshoi Ballet in Toronto. He later moved to the US, where he became a star as a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater. He soon also became a sex symbol after featuring in a number of TV performances. For his role in the film ‘The Turning Point’ in 1977, Baryshnikov received an Oscar nomination. His appearance in the wildly-popular ‘Sex and the City’ TV series was arguably an even bigger success.

Maya Plisetskaya

Plisetskaya was renowned as one of the world's greatest and most charismatic ballerinas. Her slender physique, combined with outstanding technique and effervescent personality, enabled her to steal the hearts of Indira Gandhi, Robert Kennedy and Mao Zedong alike. Plisetskaya revolutionized the world of ballet, becoming a role model for millions of aspiring artists worldwide. World-famous fashion designer Pierre Cardin happily created Plisetskaya’s dance costumes and evening wear. The ballerina retired from the Bolshoi Theater in 1990, aged 65, after 47 years on stage.

Anna Netrebko

In 2007, Anna Netrebko became the first opera singer ever to be named on the TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world. Known as the star of Russian operatic soprano, the 44-year-old has forged quite a career. Since her triumphant Salzburg Festival debut in 2002 in Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’, Netrebko went on to appear in the Metropolitan Opera, London’s Royal Opera House, Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, Vienna State Opera, and Paris Opera. She often continues to perform at the Bolshoi. Netrebko also boasts an extensive discography that includes solo albums, complete opera recordings and concert repertoire.

Elena Obraztsova

Elena Obraztsova was a Russian mezzo-soprano, who as a child survived the Leningrad Siege of WWII. Starting to sing at the age of five, she went on to debut on the stage of the Bolshoi Theater in Mussorgsky's opera ‘Boris Godunov’ in 1963, with tremendous success. Soon after, she traveled with the Bolshoi to Milan and made her debut at La Scala. After that, Obraztsova established herself as one of the major stars of opera. She was in great demand in all the major opera houses worldwide, particularly at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

The Bolshoi Theater was founded in 1776 at Catherine the Great's request to “decorate the city and also serve as the premises for public masquerades, comedies and comic operas.” Its extraordinary architecture has earned the Bolshoi the distinction of being rated one of the world’s most beautiful theaters, and its opera company and ballet are among the most reputable worldwide.