Moscow: The Bolshoi Theatre as a symbol of Russia

July 27, 2019

by Elizaveta Smirnova

The Bolshoi Theatre of Russia is a must-see during your Moscow visit, it is one of the main symbols of the country like Red Square and the Kremlin. It is part of the culture of Russia and the building with a tragic fate. Even if you simply take 100-Ruble banknote you will see its neoclassical facade depicted on it.

It is really one of the best theatre buildings in the world. It` height is 21 meters and length -25 meters. There are 2153 seats for the visitors.

The foundation of the Bolshoi Theatre

The Bolshoi Theatre is not that original building actually. The building was opened in 1825, though a private home where performances took place began at the end of the 18th century. The theatre was designed by architect Andrei Mikhailov with a help of Italian master-Osip Bove. Unfortunately, that historical monument suffered three fires and was even bombed during  World War II. The theatre that we see now was built again after its third fire in 1856. Only the columned portico stayed the same since 1825.

The Bolshoi and the ballet

Despite the variety of the operas, you can listen to in the Bolshoi theatre it is mostly associated with the ballet. Tchaikovsky`s Swan Lake- inspired by German fairy-tiles and variety of legends premiered here on 4d of March 1877. It was the first ballet that Chaikovsky wrote, it’s the one super difficult to perform since the lead ballerina has to perform two absolutely opposite characters and its absolutely beautiful. The interesting fact is that during Chaikovsky life, the ballet was mildly popular while the real popularity came to it when the composer died after the two brilliant choreographers Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa had come to the version that we see till nowadays.

Other popular ballets that you may know are Chaikovsky`s Nutcracker and the Sleeping Beauty.

The Bolshoi Theatre during Soviet times

What is interesting about the Bolshoi Theatre is that it used to have not only a cultural function but also played a key political role during the Soviet times. The building was very important for Soviet government thought at first Lenin wanted to demolish it completely as theatre considered to be the art for the bourgeoisie. But finally, the government adopted it for their political needs. First of all, in 1922 the establishment of the Soviet Union was proclaimed here. And the new Constitution was also proclaimed here. It was a place for meetings and sessions of the most well-known political leaders of that time as Lenin and Stalin.  It also continued to work as a theatre but was seriously underfunded. As for the repertoire of the Bolshoi of that time, it mostly concentrated on two topics: revolutionary movement and technical progress.

After the death of Josef Stalin the company started to tour internationally and as a result”Bolshoi Ballet” became a well-known name in the West.

“Romeo and Julliette” of the Cold war

During Bolshoi`s tours abroad the theatre started to suffer losses through a serious of defections by its dancers. The first and the most well-known case was the story of a dancer -Alexander Godunov, which really can be cold Romeo and Juliette.

While on a tour with the Bolshoi ballet Godunov contacted the US government to ask for political asylum. The KGB found out his absence very fast and responded by putting his wife, Lyudmila Vlasova (also a dancer) on a plane to Moscow. But the flight was stopped. Three days the negotiations had been held. Finally, with the involvement of the first political figures – Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and President Jimmy Carter-Vlasova could come back to USSR as U.S. Department was sure she was doing it on her own free will. Vlasova later said that Godunov loved American culture and had long desired to live in the United States, at the same time she felt she was “too Russian” to live there. Finally, they failed to meet and divorced three years after.

The theatre nowadays

Today the Bolshoi Theatre has two stages -the Historic one and the New one. The theatre reconstruction was finished in 2002. It took about 6 years and 700 000 000 dollars to do it. So nowadays the Bolshoi Theatre uses all modern technologies.

The repertoire of the theatre as it supposed to be is based on the Russian and Western classics mostly.

You can also visit the historical building with the excursion. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11.15 a.m they run group tours in English.You can buy the ticket on the day of your visit at the ticket office. The tours start at the central theatre entrance. As these tours are very popular, better come in advance, moreover, seats are limited. Box offices open at 11 a.m. The tour itself lasts for one hour.

On the tour, you will learn not only the history of the theatre but lots of curious details about its construction. You will see the beautiful historic auditorium, go up to the fourth-tier balcony, and maybe will be able to see an opera or ballet rehearsal. You are not allowed to take pictures of it, but the rest of you see you can- without a problem. There is also a museum inside the theatre you are able to visit it with a guided tour or a theatre performance. The tour ends at the gift shop on the basement level, which is open to all the visitors.

As for the tickets for the Bolshoi theatre performances, it is better to buy them online, or in two or three months in advance at the theatre box office. You can also buy the tickets from the official distributors of the Bolshoi Theatre. Also note the season, as for example the Nutcracker you can only watch during the winter holidays while Swan Lake you most probably will see in September and in January.

The Theatre Square

Not only the Bolshoi Theatre stands on the Theatre Square.If you look on your left you will see Maly Theatre. It is also worth the attention during your visit to Moscow. Bolshoi-in Russian means big, and Maly -small. These names date to the time when there were only two theatres in town, now there are about 200 in Moscow.

Maly Theatre is the oldest drama theatre in the world. Nikolay Ostrovsky is called the founder of Russian national theater, his plays are still performed there. By the way, the memorial to him is just in front of the Maly theater.



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