The rebirth of the Bolshoi theatre

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A dazzling £400m refit has given Moscow's famous theatre a fresh start after years of alleged corruption

The Bolshoi Theatre will throw open its doors again in October, after six years of extensive renovations. The state-funded opera and ballet company, which is just a stone's throw from the Kremlin, is one of Moscow's most iconic landmarks, and its management will be relieved the reconstruction work, which has been dogged by allegations of corruption and misspending, is finally drawing to a close.

The company managing the reconstruction said this week the theatre would look just as it did in the time of the tsars, with embroidered silk tapestry, and restored imperial insignia replacing the hammers and sickles of the Soviet era. The theatre's vast chandelier – eight metres (26ft) tall and weighing two tons – has been renovated and will be re-hung just before opening night. The gilt finishing reapplied throughout the theatre has been created using an old Russian technique involving vodka and egg whites.

"For us, the most important thing is the work being done to the stage and on-stage equipment," said Anatoly Iksanov, the theatre's general director. Additions include cutting-edge hydraulic stage devices, a redesigned stage floor to make things easier on ballet dancers' joints, and a new underground stage to be used for chamber concerts.

The project has not gone smoothly, costing some £400m – or around 16 times the initial estimate. In 2009, investigators said millions of roubles had been misspent by a subcontractor. Several contractors were fired from the project by the government, and there were repeated delays. But the management is now certain the theatre will be ready by the end of October so productions can return from a smaller, neighbouring theatre.

The Bolshoi has an extraordinary history that mirrors Russia's own. One of the city's first theatres opened on the spot of the Bolshoi in 1780, set up by Michael Maddox, a British tightrope walker, and a Russian aristocrat. It burned down and was replaced by a much grander structure in 1825. That burned down too but was renovated and reopened in 1856. After that, no major repair work was carried out until 2005. It was said to be on the verge of collapse, with the foundations in need of a major overhaul. The theatre might have long ago disappeared if some of the Bolsheviks had got their way in 1917. A leading avant-garde film of the time ended with the Bolshoi being demolished, as a symbol of the vile old aristocratic order.

In the end, however, the Bolsheviks appropriated the theatre, both for their own party congresses and to stage new, Soviet-friendly operas and ballets. Both Lenin and Stalin gave speeches at the Bolshoi, and it was here that Stalin stormed out of an opera by Dmitry Shostakovich at its halfway point, leading to a lengthy period of persecution for the legendary Soviet-era composer.

The theatre fell on hard times after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and was widely seen as losing out in the bitter battle for supremacy with the Mariinsky, also known as the Kirov, based in St Petersburg.

But in recent years, the Bolshoi has tried to shed a reputation for old-fashioned, plodding operas and ballets, handing productions to contemporary directors and hosting a number of experimental stagings. This has not always gone down well: the legendary soprano Galina Vishnevskaya said she would never again visit the Bolshoi after witnessing a contemporary production of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin there.

More recently, the theatre was rocked earlier this year by scandal when the deputy director of the ballet company resigned after pornographic photographs of him were circulated on the internet.

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral