The Bolshoi Theatre (Russian: Большо́й теа́тр, tr. Bol'shoy Teatr, meaning Large, Great or Grand Theatre, also spelled Bolshoy) is a historic theatre in Moscow, Russia, designed by architect Joseph Bové, which holds performances of ballet and opera. The Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera are amongst the oldest and most renowned ballet and opera companies in the world. The theatre is the parent company of The Bolshoi Ballet Academy, a world-famous leading school of ballet.
The main building of the theatre, rebuilt and renovated several times during its history, is a landmark of Moscow and Russia (its iconic neoclassical facade is depicted on the Russian 100-ruble banknote). On 28 October 2011, the Bolshoi was re-opened after an extensive six year renovation. 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 in 1776 by Prince Pyotr Vasilyevich 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 a 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" is Russian for "large" or "grand") and the drama theatres were called the "Smaller Theatre" ("Maly" is 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 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 immediately 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. Feodor Chaliapin, Leonid Sobinov, Antonina Nezhdanova, Ksenia Derzhinskaia and other outstanding opera singers have performed at the Bolshoi.
The New Stage of the Bolshoi Theatre was opened on November 29, 2000. It was built to the left of the historic Main Stage of the Bolshoi. Together with auxiliary buildings (a restored 17th century building, two rehearsal halls, and artists' recreation rooms) it became a single theater complex, the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia. The new building is built on a natural hill, where until recently there were blocks of old houses with communal apartments
From July 2005 to October 2011 the Theatre was closed for restoration. It had undergone many renovations in its time, but none as major as this. The building, whose architecture includes three different styles, was damaged, and a quick renovation seemed to be necessary. The repairs were initially due to cost 15 billion rubles ($610 million), but engineers found that more than 75% of the structure was unstable and it was then estimated that about 25.5 billion rubles (app. $850 million) would need to be spent. However, at the completion of the restoration, it was announced that only 21 billion rubles were spent. The work was funded entirely by the federal government.
Despite the reconstruction, the company was working, with performances held on the New Stage and on the stage of the Great Kremlin Palace. On October 28, 2011, the Bolshoi Theatre was re-opened with a concert featuring international artists and the ballet and opera companies.
The renovation included an improvement in acoustics to restore the sound to the level of the pre-Soviet era as well as the restoration of the original Imperial decor. The foundation and brickwork were also repaired.
Inside the theatre, 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 facade, 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.
The Bolshoi Theatre is famous throughout the world. It is frequented by 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 (50 for students) rubles (balcony seats for matinee performances) to 5,000 rubles (for seats in the orchestra or stalls).