The Bolshoi Theatre

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Москва, Центральный административный округ, Москва, Центральный федеральный округ, Россия
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The Bolshoi Theatre (Russian: Большо́й теа́тр, tr. Bol'shoy Teatr, Big Theatre, IPA: ) is a historic theatre in Moscow, Russia, originally designed by architect Joseph Bové, which holds ballet and opera performances. 

Before the October Revolution it was a part of the Imperial Theatres of the Russian Empire along with Maly Theatre (Small Theatre) in Moscow and a few theatres in Saint Petersburg (Hermitage Theatre, Bolshoi (Kamenny) Theatre, later Mariinsky Theatre and others).

The Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera are amongst the oldest and most renowned ballet and opera companies in the world. It is by far the world's biggest ballet company, with more than 200 dancers.[2] The theatre is the parent company of The Bolshoi Ballet Academy, a world-famous leading school of ballet. It has a branch at the Bolshoi Theater School in Joinville, Brazil.

The main building of the theatre, rebuilt and renovated several times during its history, is a landmark of Moscow and Russia (its iconic neoclassical façade is depicted on the Russian 100-ruble banknote). On 28 October 2011, the Bolshoi re-opened after an extensive six-year renovation. The official cost of the renovation is 21 billion rubles ($688 million). However, other Russian authorities and other people connected to it claimed much more public money was spent. The renovation included restoring acoustics to the original quality (which had been lost during the Soviet Era), as well as restoring the original Imperial decor of the Bolshoi.


The company was founded on 28 March [O.S. 17 March] 1776, when Catherine II granted Prince Peter Ouroussoff a licence to organise theatrical performances, balls and other forms of entertainment. Ouroussoff set up the theatre in collaboration with English tightrope walker Michael Maddox. Initially, it held performances in a private home, but it acquired the Petrovka Theatre and on 30 December 1780, it began producing plays and operas, thus establishing what would become the Bolshoi Theatre. Fire destroyed the Petrovka Theatre on 8 October 1805, and the New Arbat Imperial Theatre replaced it on 13 April 1808, however it also succumbed to fire during the French invasion of Moscow in 1812.

The first instance of the theatre was built between 1821 and 1824, designed and supervised to completion by architect Joseph Bové based upon an initial competition-winning design created by Petersburg-based Russian architect Andrei Mikhailov that was deemed too costly to complete. Bové also concurrently designed the nearby Maly Theatre and the surrounding Theater Square, The new building opened on 18 January 1825 as the Bolshoi Petrovsky Theatre with a performance of Fernando Sor's ballet, Cendrillon. Initially, it presented only Russian works, but foreign composers entered the repertoire around 1840.

Renovations in the 19th century

In 1843 a large-scale reconstruction of the theatre took place using a design by A. Nikitin, but a fire in 1853 caused extensive damage and so a further reconstruction was carried out, by Alberto Cavos, son of the opera composer Catterino Cavos. On 20 August 1856, the Bolshoi Theatre reopened. Other repairs of the building took place in 1896.

20th century

On 7 December 1919 the house was renamed the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre. Only a few days later, however, on 12 December, there was an unsuccessful attempt to shut the institution entirely. Beethoven Hall opened on 18 February 1921. Ivan Rerberg directed further reconstruction of the theatre between 1921 and 1923. A bomb damaged the structure during World War II, but this was promptly repaired.

New stage of 2002

A new stage for the Bolshoi Theatre, called the New Stage, went into service on 29 November 2002, constructed to the left of the theatre's historic main stage. Together with auxiliary buildings — a restored 17th-century building, two rehearsal halls, and artists' recreation rooms — it forms a single theatre complex, the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia. The new building is on a natural hill which it shared, until recently, blocks of old houses with communal apartments.

Major rebuilding and renovation (2005–2011)

From July 2005 to October 2011 the theatre was closed for restoration. It had undergone many renovations in its time, but none as extensive. The building, whose architecture combines three different styles, was damaged and a quick renovation seemed to be necessary.

Repairs were initially estimated at 15 billion rubles ($610 million) but engineers found that more than 75% of the structure was unstable,] and as a result the cost estimate jumped to 25.5 billion rubles (app. $850 million). At the completion of the work, however, it was announced that only 21 billion rubles ($688 mil) had been spent. According to The Moscow Times, the true cost may have been double that, and Der Spiegel quotes a figure of $1.1 billion. The rebuilding and renovation was funded entirely by the federal government.

During the long period of reconstruction, the company continued to mount productions, with performances held on the New Stage and on the stage of the Great Kremlin Palace.

The renovation included an improvement in acoustics, to attempt to replicate the sound believed to have existed in pre-Soviet times, and the restoration of the original Imperial decor. The building's foundation and brickwork were thoroughly reset. Inside, the entire space was stripped from the bottom up. The 19th-century wooden fixtures, silver stage curtain and French-made red velvet banquettes were removed for repair in specialist workshops. Outside, on the top of the façade, the double-headed eagle of the original Russian coat of arms was installed in the place where the Soviet hammer and sickle had been mounted for decades.

Finally, on 28 October 2011, the Bolshoi Theatre re-opened with a concert featuring international artists and the ballet and opera companies. The first staged opera, Ruslan and Lyudmila, followed soon after.

Notable premieres

The Bolshoi has been the site of many historic premieres, including:

  • Tchaikovsky's The Voyevoda and Mazeppa
  • Modest Mussorgsky's one version of Boris Godunov was given on 16 December 1888.
  • Rachmaninoff's Aleko and Francesca da Rimini
  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Maid of Pskov, with Feodor Chaliapin singing the role of Ivan the Terrible
  • Dmitri Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1935.

Other notable facts

  • The first symphonic concert by the Bolshoi Orchestra took place at the Bolshoi Theatre on 4 May 1919, conducted by Serge Koussevitzky
  • Leonid Sobinov, Antonina Nezhdanova, Ksenia Dzerzhinskaya, Galina Vishnevskaya, and dozens of other outstanding opera singers have performed at the Bolshoi.
  • The formal proclamation that the Soviet Union had been officially established was made from the stage of the Bolshoi.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 34 members of the theatre were infected.

Ballet and opera

The Bolshoi is a repertory theatre, meaning that it draws from a list of productions, any one of which may be performed on a given evening. It normally introduces two to four new ballet or opera productions each season and puts a similar number on hold. The sets and costumes for most productions are made in the Bolshoi's own workshops. The performers are drawn primarily from the Bolshoi's regular ballet and opera companies, with occasional guest performances. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there have been a few attempts to reduce the theatre's traditional dependence on large state subsidies. Corporate sponsorship occurs for some productions, but state funding is still the lifeblood of the company.

The Bolshoi has been associated from its beginnings with ballet. Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake premiered at the theatre on 4 March 1877. Other staples of the Bolshoi repertoire include Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, Adam's Giselle, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, and Khachaturian's Spartacus.

The chief ballet conductor from 1923 to 1963 was Yuri Fayer.

After the death of Joseph Stalin, the company toured internationally and became an important source of cultural prestige, as well as foreign currency earnings. As a result, the "Bolshoi Ballet" became a well-known name in the West. However, the Bolshoi suffered from losses through a series of defections of its dancers. The first occurrence was on 23 August 1979, with Alexander Godunov; followed by Leonid Kozlov and Valentina Kozlova on 16 September 1979; and other cases in the following years. Bolshoi continues to tour regularly with opera and ballet productions in the post-Soviet era.

The opera company specializes in the classics of Russian opera such as Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, Glinka's A Life for the Tsar, and Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride, as well as the operas of Tchaikovsky. Many operas by western composers are also performed, especially works of Italian composers such as Rossini, Verdi, and Puccini. Until the mid-1990s, most foreign operas were sung in Russian, but Italian and other languages have been heard more frequently on the Bolshoi stage in recent years.

Some operas, such as Borodin's Prince Igor, include extensive ballet sequences. Many productions, especially of classic Russian opera, are performed on a grand scale, with dozens of costumed singers and dancers on stage for crowd or festival scenes.


The orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre is a virtuoso ensemble in its own right. It gives occasional concerts of symphonic music in the theatre and elsewhere, and has made recordings. Over the decades, it has toured overseas as the "Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra," the "Bolshoi Symphony Orchestra" and, most recently, as the "Bolshoi Orchestra."

Music director and chief conductor, Vassily Sinaisky, quit abruptly at the start of December 2013, after a 41-month tenure, citing the need to avoid conflict. General director Vladimir Urin promptly accepted his resignation and selected Tugan Sokhiev as replacement. Sokhiev's four-year contract, settled on 20 January 2014 and became effective immediately. The new chief also holds conductorships in Toulouse and Berlin.

Chief conductors and music directors

  • Samuil Samosud (1936–1942)
  • Ariy Pazovsky (1943–1948)
  • Nikolai Golovanov (1948 –1953)
  • Alexander Melik-Pashayev (1953–1963)
  • Yevgeny Svetlanov (1963–1965)
  • Gennady Rozhdestvensky (1965–1970)
  • Yuri Simonov (1970–1985)
  • Alexander Lazarev (1987–1995)
  • Peter Feranec (1995–1998)
  • Mark Ermler (1998–2000)
  • Gennady Rozhdestvensky (2000–2001)
  • Alexander Vedernikov (2001–2009)
  • Leonid Desyatnikov (2009–2010)
  • Vassily Sinaisky (2010–2013)
  • Tugan Sokhiev (from January 20, 2014)

Cultural status

The Bolshoi Theatre is world-famous and attracts large numbers of tourists. As a result, prices can be much higher than in other Russian theatres. This is especially the case for ballet, where prices are comparable to those for performances in the West. For local citizens, concerts and operas are still relatively affordable, with prices ranging from 100 rubles (≈$1.5) (for students, for balcony seats for matinée performances) to 15,000 rubles (≈$230) (for seats in the orchestra or stalls).


  • The rebuilding and renovation cost was $1.1 billion, sixteen times the initial estimate. In 2009 prosecutors alleged the lead contractor was paid three times for the same work.
  • Anastasia Volochkova, a former Bolshoi prima ballerina, has said she sees the theatre "as a big brothel" because, she has claimed, ballerinas are invited to parties by theatre administrators and refused roles if they do not accept.
  • On 17 January 2013, Sergei Filin, the Bolshoi's ballet director, was attacked with sulfuric acid and as a result lost much of his eyesight. A male dancer was later charged with the crime.
  • In the area of box office, a theatre insider told the German publication Der Spiegel that tickets are often sold to mafia dealers, who in turn sell them on the black market for double the face value.
  • Performance quality has been criticized by the former music director Alexander Vedernikov (2001-2009). He has claimed the Bolshoi Theatre was putting "bureaucratic interests before artistic ones."
  • July 8, 2017, three days before the premiere, the Bolshoi Theatre called off the premiere of a ballet about legendary dancer Rudolf Nureyev. The Director General Vladimir Urin claimed it was due to the bad quality of the dancing, however the principal dancer Maria Alexandrova claimed it was the first sign of a 'new era' of censorship. It was the first time a show has been pulled in such a way since the collapse of the Soviet Union, sparking rumours about the motivation behind it.


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not setPyotr Ilyich TchaikovskyPyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky07.05.184006.11.1893de, en, fr, lt, lv, pl, ru
not set, not setMāris  LiepaMāris Liepa27.07.193626.03.1989en, fr, lt, lv, ru, ua
not setSergei DiaghilevSergei Diaghilev31.03.187219.08.1929de, en, fr, lt, lv, pl, ru
not setSerge LifarSerge Lifar02.04.190415.12.1986de, en, fr, pl, ru
not setTamara ToumanovaTamara Toumanova02.03.191929.05.1996en, fr, ru
not setMichel FokineMichel Fokine05.05.188022.08.1942en, ru
not setGalína  UlánovaGalína Ulánova08.01.191021.03.1998en, lv, ru
not setЛюдмила  МакароваЛюдмила Макарова20.10.192130.05.2014ru
not setDmitri ShostakovichDmitri Shostakovich25.09.190609.08.1975de, ee, en, fr, lv, pl, ru, ua
not setIgor  MoiseyevIgor Moiseyev21.01.190602.11.2007de, en, fr, pl, ru, ua
not setAlexander GodunovAlexander Godunov28.11.194918.05.1995de, en, fr, pl, ru
not setIrina  ArkhipovaIrina Arkhipova02.01.192511.02.2010de, en, fr, lv, pl, ru, ua
not setGennady  RozhdestvenskyGennady Rozhdestvensky04.05.193116.06.2018de, en, fr, lv, ru
not setРаиса СтручковаРаиса Стручкова05.10.192502.05.2005ru
not setSulamith MessererSulamith Messerer27.08.190803.06.2004en, lv, ru
not setDmitri HvorostovskyDmitri Hvorostovsky16.10.196222.11.2017de, en, fr, lv, pl, ru, ua
not setMuslim  MagomayevMuslim Magomayev17.08.194225.10.2008en, lv, ru
not setAndrei  EshpaiAndrei Eshpai15.05.192508.11.2015de, en, pl, ru, ua
not setAndrejs  ŽagarsAndrejs Žagars16.10.195826.02.2019de, ee, en, lv, ru, ua
not setMaya  PlisetskayaMaya Plisetskaya20.11.192502.05.2015de, en, fr, lt, lv, pl, ru, ua

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