The Bolshoi Theatre (Russian: Большой театр, Bol’shoy Teatr, Large, Great or Grand Theatre, also spelled Bolshoy) is a historic theatre in Moscow, Russia, designed by the architect Joseph Bové, which holds performances of ballet and opera. The Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera are amongst the oldest and greatest ballet and opera companies of the world, respectively. The theatre is the parent company of The Bolshoi Ballet Academy, a world-leading school of ballet.
The company was founded in 1776 by Prince Peter Urusov and Michael Maddox. Initially, it held performances in a private home, but in 1780, it acquired the Petrovka Theatre and began producing plays and operas. The current building was built on Theatre Square in 1824 to replace the Petrovka Theatre, which had been destroyed by fire in 1805. It was designed by architect Andrei Mikhailov, who had built the nearby Maly Theatre in 1824.
At that time, all Russian theatres were imperial property. Moscow and St Petersburg each had only two theatres, one intended for opera and ballet (these were known as the Bolshoi Theatres), and one for plays (tragedies and comedies). As opera and ballet were considered nobler than drama, the opera houses were named “Grand Theatres” (“Bolshoi” being the Russian for “large” or “grand”) and the drama theatres were called “Smaller Theatre” (“Maly” being the Russian for “small”, “lesser”, or “little”).
The Bolshoi Theatre’s original name was the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow, while the St. Petersburg Bolshoi Theatre (demolished in 1886), was called the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre.
The Moscow theatre was inaugurated on 18 January 1825 with a performance of Fernando Sor’s ballet, Cendrillon. Initially, it presented only Russian works, but foreign composers entered the repertoire starting around 1840. A fire in 1853 caused extensive damage; reconstruction was carried out by Alberto Cavos, son of Catterino Cavos, an opera composer. The theater reopened in 1856. During World War II, the theatre was damaged by a bomb, but it was promptly repaired.
The Bolshoi has been the site of many historic premieres including Tchaikovsky’s The Voyevoda and Mazeppa, and Rachmaninoff’s Aleko and Francesca da Rimini.
The main building of the Bolshoi closed for restoration in 2005 and originally set to reopen in 2009 or early 2010. As of late 2009, this has been pushed back to 2011. It is scheduled to open on October 2, 2011 with premiere of Glinka’s opera «Ruslan and Lyudmila» (director — Dmitry Chernyakov). The Theatre has undergone many renovations in its time, but none as major as this. The restoration will cost US$730 million. The restoration was initially due to cost 15 billion rubles ($610 million), but engineers found the structure was more than 75 percent unstable. The work is being funded entirely by the federal government.
The restoration will repair the foundation and brickwork. The renovation is intended to restore the original acoustics of the theatre, which were largely lost as a result of renovations during the Soviet era. Inside the theatre, the entire space has been stripped from the bottom up, the 19th-century wooden fixtures, silver stage curtain and French-made red velvet banquettes removed for repair in specialist workshops. At the very top of the facade, the two-headed eagle of the original Russian coat of arms has been installed in place where the Soviet hammer and sickle hung for decades.
Despite the reconstruction, the theatre is operational and holds performances. Most of the shows are performed on the New Stage and some performances are held on the stage of the Great Kremlin Palace.
The New Stage of Bolshoi Theatre was opened on November 29, 2000. A new scene is built close to the historic building of the Main Stage of Bolshoi, at the left side of it. Together with auxiliary buildings (a restored building of XVIII century, where to rehearsal halls, artists’ recreation rooms) have a single theater complex, the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia. The new building is built on the natural hill. Just recently there were blocks of old houses with communal apartments. The Bolshoi theatre is the most famous in Moscow and in Russia as well, they are usually frequented by tourists, and the prices can be correspondingly much more expensive when compared to other Russian theatres, particularly for ballets, where the prices are comparable to those for performances in the West. Concerts and operas are still relatively affordable, with prices in the interval from the 350 roubles (the seats in the balcony for the matinee) to 5,000 roubles (for the seats in stalls). 1USD = approximately 30 roubles. Prices do go up every year, however.