Article by Tanya Levy (MGBH)
Bolshoi Theater strikes us with its opulence and grandeur. Today, with the help of the most professional teams in the world involved in its renovation, it looks more solid than ever, but its history is comprised of a serious of unfortunate events paired with perseverance to preserve this national monument that became a hallmark of Russian cultural life.
Built by Price Peter Urusov (OBM), Bolshoi, or Petrovsky, Theater opened its doors on December 30th, 1780, with the help of theatrical entrepreneur Michael Maddox (OBM), whom Prince Urusov invited as a business partner. Its opening performance consisted of a solemn prologue The Wanderers by Alexander Ablesimov (OBM) and a big pantomime ballet The Magic School, produced by Leopold Paradis (OBM) to music by Joseph Starzer (OBM). Later on, the Theater repertoire consisted for the most part of Russian and Italian comic operas with ballet interludes, and separate ballets. (1)
After becoming a sole owner of the theater and having taken too many loans from the government, Michael Maddox was forced to transfer the ownership of the Theater to the hands of the Government Loan Office.
In the fall of 1805 the Theater building burned down, and the Company had to perform in other private theaters. In 1808, it started to perform at the New Arbat Theater, designed by Carlo Rossi (2). During the 1812 war against Napoleon, this building burned down as well.
The new Petrovsky Theater was redesigned by Alexei Mikhailov (OBM) and Joseph Bove (OBM). On January 6th, 1825, the Theater, accommodating over 2,000 people, re-opened its doors. As it was much bigger than the original theater, it was often referred to as the Big (Bolshoi) Petrovsky Theater. The opening night performance was so successful that it had to be repeated the next evening for the people who weren’t able to get in.
Thirty years later, on March 11th, 1853, the fire broke down in the Theater and continued for three days (3), destroying everything but its walls and columns. A renowned architect Alberto Cavos (OBM) won a privilege to re-design and rebuild the Theater. On August 20th, 1856, Bolshoi Theater re-opened its doors to the public for the third time with a performance of Vincenzo Bellini (OBM) I Puritani.
In 1917, the Bolshevik government entertained the idea of clothing the Theater, but spared it later. On 7 December 1919 the house was renamed the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre. In 1921, after the Soviet Revolution, the government commission examining the condition of the Theater, found it to be catastrophic(4) and started emergency repairs under the supervision of the architect Ivan Rerberg. Beethoven Hall opened on February 18th, 1921. In 1938, the stage was majorly reconstructed. In August of 1941, the Theater was closed for complete reconstruction.
On October 22nd, 1941, a German bomb was dropped on the Bolshoi Theater building. Despite the wartime hardship and the severe cold, restoration work on the Theater was initiated in winter 1942 (5). In 1943, the Theater re-opened its doors to the public.
Forty-six years later, after yearly cosmetic repairs, in 1987, the Theater has undergone another major reconstruction to build a second stage that would open in 2002. In 2005, its Historic Stage was shut down for reconstruction and refurbishment, which turned into a world-level project.
In 2010, the Lobby, the White Foyer, the Choral, Exhibition, Round and Beethoven halls were renovated. “Muscovites were able to admire the restored facades and the renovated symbol of the Bolshoi Theater – the famous Apollo quadriga, created by the sculptor Peter Klodt (OBM). (6)
The modern version of Bolshoi Theater boasts not only its opulent look, but also its supreme acoustics and state of the art machinery. The main stage consists of seven two-tier rising and descending platforms. The platforms can easily change their positions with the stage having an ability to become horizontal, raked or stepped. The depth of stage space can be achieved by connecting the stage and backstage areas.
New upper stage equipment, remotely controlled by computer, makes it possible to derive maximum use from lighting, sound and visual effects. Cutting edge rigs have been installed for the deployment of lanterns, special effects apparatus and acoustics (7).
The orchestra pit seats up to 130 musicians and is one of the largest in the world.
The installation of state of the art stage equipment was a unique world-scale project. The reconstruction has doubled the Theatre’s total floor space. Thanks to the expansion of the Theatre’s existing underground spaces (under stage house) and to the construction of new underground space under Theatre Square, this has been achieved without any change to the Theatre’s external appearance.
Thus the Theatre has acquired badly needed new space, including an underground concert and rehearsal room, which has inherited its name from the Beethoven Hall, under the Theatre lobby.
This hall is a multi-functional space, which can be used in different ways. It consists of five main platforms: the central platform is the stage itself, two platforms to the right and left of it can be used either to increase the size of the stage or as audience space. The two remaining platforms form the main space of the auditorium. All of the platforms can be raised to foyer level to create a space for holding formal, receptions. Apart from this concert hall and its auxiliary premises, the rest of the underground space under Theatre Square accommodates a large number of technical, service and staff rooms.
The Bolshoi Theatre reconstruction project also included the renovation of the Khomyakov (OBM) House, a protected architectural monument of the first half of the nineteenth century situated immediately behind the Bolshoi, which has been transformed into a service wing. Due to numerous 20th century reconstructions, the historical interiors of the Khomyakov House have been totally lost. While its main walls have been preserved, the interior layout has been redesigned to meet the Theatre’s present-day requirements. Thus the Khomaykov House, which is linked to the main Bolshoi Theater building by an underground tunnel, is a key element in the gigantic Bolshoi Theatre complex.
PIANO AT BOLSHOI
Although Bolshoi Theater was originally built to host opera and ballet performances, it also has a rich history of hosting piano concerts by such prominent pianists as Svyatoslav Richter (OBM), Emil Gilels (OBM), Dmitry Shostakovich (OBM), Alexander Goldenveizer (OBM), Maria Yudina (OBM), Lev Oborin (OBM), Grigory Ginsburg (OBM), and Yevgeniy Raikov (OBM).
Today the Beethoven Hall continues to host piano recitals and events. It has become one of the main locations for the Vladimir Spivakov’s (MGBH) International Festival “Meet the Friends” as well as a series “Faces of the Bolshoi Theater” featuring collaborative piano performances.