Bolshoi Theater

Since its foundation towards the end of the 18th century, Moscow's celebrated Bolshoi Theater has experienced a turbulent and dramatic history. The forerunner of today's theater was Prince P.V. Urussov's Public Opera and Ballet Theater, commissioned by Catherine the Great in 1776 and financially backed by the Englishman Michael Maddox. The first of many disasters struck the theatre in 1805 when fire gutted the building, leaving it beyond repair and Maddox completely penniless. Ownership of the theater was then transferred to the state and Moscow acquired its first Imperial Theater.

Just 7 years later fire raged through Moscow and destroyed the entire city. In 1824, as part of the reconstruction of the Russian capital, the architect Andrei Mikhailov designed a new, much larger Bolshoi Theater, which was to be situated on the newly planned Theater Square. The renowned St. Petersburg architect, Osip Bove, was also amongst the many architects drafted in to supervise the rebuilding of Moscow. The bases of the theater's new columns were made from stones taken from the banks of the Neglinnaya River and the steps of Kuznetsky Bridge. The theater opened its doors on 6th January 1825 with a performance of the prologue "The Triumph of Muses" to music by Verstovsky and Alyabev and the ballet Sandrilyona.

Calamity struck again in 1853 when the apparently cursed theater caught fire once more and the blaze raged for days, almost entirely destroying the interior but leaving the outer walls more or less intact. The building was almost completely reconstructed in 1856 by the architect Albert Kavos, the designer of St. Petersburg's magnificent Mariinsky Theater and an expert in acoustics. The new building is a masterpiece of 19th century Russian neoclassicism and was adorned with a massive, eight-columned portico, surmounted by the horse-drawn chariot of the god of the arts, Apollo. The theater's vast five-tiered auditorium is richly ornamented with chandeliers, gold stucco decoration and plush red velvet furnishings. It seats over 2,000 people and its auditorium is an impressive 21 meters tall, 25 meters long and 26 meters wide, making it one of the largest theaters in the world.

The Bolshoi has hosted some of Russia's most famed performers and celebrated premieres by some of the world's best-loved composers. Glinka's opera "A Life for the Tsar" premiered there on 7th September 1842 and Richard Wagner conducted a series of concerts there in 1863. This century has seen the theater premiering works by the composers Prokofiev and Shostakovich, as well as the spectacularly successful ballet hit of the 1960s "Spartacus", by Aram Khachaturyan. The theater's star dancers, among them Maya Plisetskaya, Vladimir Vasiliev, Galina Ulanova and Rudolf Nuryev, helped to build the theater's reputation and boosted their careers into the dazzling heights of international success.

The theater has also played host to numerous political dramas, one of the stormiest of which was the Fifth Party Congress of July 1918, during which the final split between Lenin's Bolsheviks and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries took place. The latter's leader denounced Lenin and the entire Left SR delegation was held prisoner in the Bolshoi while the Bolsheviks put down an uprising of their followers on the streets outside. The theater also played host to the famous First All Union Congress of Soviets held on December 30th 1922, which officially acknowledged the birth of the Soviet Union. Not long after that, the theater was reopened for public performances and its reputation and repertoire has continued to grow and gather international acclaim ever since.

A trip to see one of the Bolshoi Theater's world-class opera or ballet performances is an absolute must on your next visit to Moscow.