Bolshoi Theater: the history of one reconstruction

What associations does the word “big” evoke in an ordinary resident of our country? The phrase can not even be continued – the Bolshoi has long become a household name for the main theater of Russia, located on Teatralnaya Square in the center of the capital..

The Bolshoi Theatre
Mihaly Zichy. Auditorium of the Bolshoi Theater. 1856

A place that guests of the capital always tried to visit, a real Mecca of theatergoers not only from Russia, but also from other countries, a symbol of Moscow, a building with an interesting history, its own traditions and atmosphere – all this is the State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater.

The restored hall of the Bolshoi Theater

As you know, on October 28, the grand opening of the theater took place after six years of work on the reconstruction of this magnificent building. The scale of the event shocked everyone, tickets for the celebration cost fabulous money, and yet there was no room in the hall. However, the distribution of tickets for the ceremony was handled personally by representatives of the Presidential Administration, and ordinary citizens were not allowed to enter there. But celebrities and high officials filled the boxes of the Bolshoi Theater almost completely. In addition, millions of Internet users were able to watch the opening ceremony online.

Bolshoi Opening Ceremony – October 28

The ceremony has already been named the most significant event in the cultural life of our country over the past 20 years and has caused a great resonance all over the world.

Rejoicing at such a happy ending to a rather sad story, I would like to recall everything that preceded the grand opening of the Bolshoi Theater.


Before embarking on a story about the modern history of the main theater of our country, the main event of which was a long reconstruction and grand opening, I would like to mention the most significant milestones in the history of the Bolshoi Theater in order to understand how significant and symbolic this building is for Moscow and Russia.

The opening day of the Bolshoi, then still a private theater, is considered March 28, 1776, when Catherine II signed a decree according to which Prince Pyotr Urusov received privileges for ten years for the maintenance of performances, balls, masquerades and other amusements. The theater building itself did not yet exist, and the drama and opera troupes were a single whole. The composition of the theater was very different – from talented serfs to invited famous foreign artists.

In 1780, a building was erected for the Moscow theater on Neglinka, the building in the future was called the Old Petrovsky Theater and served as a venue for the performances of the Urusov troupe, who shared the burden of leadership with Michael Medox, a “Russianized” Englishman, equilibrist and mechanic who delivered various lectures and mechanical “Miracles”.

Old Petrovsky Theater

Already in 1805, the Old Petrovsky Theater burned down, and the Moscow troupe was forced to perform on various private stages. By the way, at that time it was already led by Prince Volkonsky, who reported in his actions to the Board of Trustees. Since 1808, the Arbat Theater has become the building that has sheltered the troupe, which, unfortunately, also burned down during a fire in the capital in 1812.

In 1819, a competition was announced for the construction of a new building for the Moscow Imperial Theater, the winner of which was Andrei Mikhailov, a professor at the Academy of Arts. However, his project was considered too expensive, and the architect Osip Bove was instructed to correct the project, which he did, making some improvements and changes.

The construction, which began in 1820, lasted five years, and already in 1825 the Bolshoi Petrovsky Theater opened its doors to the audience. The building at that time was considered really very large – the hall could accommodate more than two thousand people, all amenities were created for both artists and spectators, and the rich decoration amazed the imagination of the guests of the theater.

Bolshoi Petrovsky Theater on Teatralnaya Square

And again, the Bolshoi Petrovsky Theater suffered the fate of its predecessors – in 1853 the building burned out almost completely and needed a complete reconstruction.

Fire at the Bolshoi Petrovsky Theater, 1853

The winner of a new competition announced by the authorities to select a project for the restoration of the building was Albert Kavos, professor at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts and chief architect of the imperial theaters. The reconstruction progressed rapidly – only in 1855 the dismantling of the ruins of the burnt building began, and already in August 1856 the restored theater opened its doors to the public. This haste was simply explained – it was necessary to complete the construction before the coronation of Emperor Alexander II..

The new building had significant differences from its predecessor, was famous throughout the world for its magnificent acoustics, rich decoration, murals and attention to detail..

Bolshoi Imperial Theater, 1883

However, the structure built on piles was rapidly deteriorating, the water table dropped, and the upper part of the supporting structures simply rotted, which caused significant settlement of the building. In 1895 and 1898, the foundation of the Bolshoi Theater was renovated, which made it possible to improve the condition of the building.

Since 1917, the Bolshoi Theater received the status of the State Theater, it was from its stage that the creation of the USSR was announced, congresses of Soviets and meetings of the Comintern were held here.

Congress of Soviets at the Bolshoi Theater

However, the need for a new reconstruction was again brewing, and in 1921, after an examination by a special commission, which recognized the condition of the building as unsatisfactory, work was carried out to strengthen the foundations under the circular walls of the auditorium, as well as the cloakroom premises were restored, new rehearsal buildings were created, staircases were re-planned, and dressing rooms were erected. … In 1938 the stage was overhauled.

For 1941, construction work was planned on the territory behind the theater (up to Kuznetsky Most), which was vacated after the demolition of old buildings, of the premises necessary for the operation of the Bolshoi Theater, as well as work to ensure ventilation of all rooms and fire safety of the building. All these plans were prevented by the beginning of the Great Patriotic War..

Every year, the building was redecorated, in 1975, for the 200th anniversary of the theater, some restoration work was carried out in the Beethoven and auditoriums. However, the main problems of the Bolshoi Theater – the lack of internal premises and the instability of the foundation – have not been resolved..

Back in 1987, by a decree of the Government of the USSR, a decision was made on the urgent need for a complete reconstruction of the Bolshoi Theater. However, a whole 8 years passed before the first stone was laid in the foundation of the theater branch, which would have allowed the troupe to continue performing during the reconstruction. And it took another 7 years to build the New Stage building.

Only after that did it become possible to start the reconstruction of the Bolshoi Theater.


On July 2, 2005, the Bolshoi Theater was closed for reconstruction. At that time, the deterioration of the building ranged from 50 to 70%, the structure needed major repairs and strengthening of the foundation.

Initially, various options for the restoration of the building were considered: from the usual major repairs to the complete reconstruction of the Bolshoi Theater. As a result, we settled on a project that was approved by the theater troupe itself, cultural figures, as well as architects and authorities..

This project provided for a cardinal reconstruction of the stage section with deepening of the underground space, as well as a scientific restoration of the spectator section of the theater. The external appearance of the building – an architectural and historical monument – had to be preserved in its original form.

It was planned that about 19 billion rubles would be spent on the reconstruction of the theater, but as a result, the reconstruction became the most expensive in the world – according to official data alone, over 6 years of repair and restoration work was spent over 700 million dollars (according to unconfirmed unofficial ones – 2 times more ).

For comparison: the reconstruction of La Scala in Milan, which was completed several years ago, cost the Italian government and investors only 72 million dollars, the reconstruction of the Royal Opera in London – Covent Gaden – 350 million, and the reconstruction of the Moscow Kremlin, unique in its execution, was spent $ 312 million.

Reconstruction of the Bolshoi Theater

The first scandal around the reconstruction of the Bolshoi Theater arose in December 2005, when Mikhail Shvydkoy, who was then the head of Roskultura, announced that at least $ 1 billion would be required to carry out repair work at the State Academic Bolshoi Theater. As a result of the scandal that broke out, the requests of the Agency for Culture and Cinematography of Russia decreased to $ 600 million. Such “appetites”, for example, were commented on by the American Tateo Nakashima, the world’s largest theater technology specialist, who said that he could use such funds to build 3 theaters in Moscow. Independent experts, as well as specialists from the Ministry of Economic Development, called the reconstruction budget overstated..

Be that as it may, preparations for the reconstruction have begun. As stated on the official website of the Bolshoi Theater, for the first four years of the project’s implementation, “a thorough study of the building itself, scanning of its position in space, the condition of its walls and foundations” took place. That is, in fact, until 2009, until the moment when President Dmitry Medvedev became interested in the course of the reconstruction of the main theater of Russia and took control personally, practically nothing happened in the building! Yes, the plaster was removed from the walls and 2 thousand piles were driven in, which became the temporary foundation of the Bolshoi Theater, but it was planned to complete the restoration work in 4 years, and the builders did not even begin to work on them..

Only in the fall of 2009, after the creation of a special interdepartmental group, which took control of the restoration and reconstruction of the main stage of our country, after numerous preparatory work, the huge, badly worn out building of the State Academic Bolshoi Theater was finally transferred from temporary supports to a permanent, new foundation, and in the premises of the theater began a large-scale restoration.

Internal reconstruction of the Bolshoi Theater

At the same time, in September 2009, the Investigative Committee under the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation announced that an investigation had begun on the reasons why the amount of reconstruction of the State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater had increased 16 times – to $ 700 million. The facts of violations and embezzlement were revealed during the audit carried out by the Accounts Chamber in the federal state institution “Directorate for Construction, Reconstruction and Restoration”.

Thus, it was established that back in August 2003, between the management and a certain closed joint-stock company Kurortproekt, a contract was signed to create a project for the second stage of reconstruction and restoration of the complex of buildings of the Bolshoi Theater of Russia for a total amount of 98.048 million rubles.

Then, after the conclusion of additional agreements to this contract, this amount was about 164.329 million rubles. The audit of the Accounts Chamber showed that funds were transferred for the same work performed. In total, over the course of 6 years, ZAO Kurortproekt received money 3 times!

As a result, the Bolshoi reconstruction project alone cost the state (that is, taxpayers) 500 million rubles..

By the way, according to the initial plan, the theater should have been renovated by 2008. However, the completion date of the reconstruction work was constantly postponed. Yuri Luzhkov, who was the mayor of Moscow at that time, repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction with the progress of work and demanded that the contractor, ZAO SUIproekt, accelerate the pace. Interestingly, back in February 2006, Luzhkov left the post of co-chairman of the theater’s board of trustees, expressing no confidence in the announced cost of reconstruction.

At the end of summer 2009, the Accounts Chamber also checked the work of the builders and found that the amount spent on the reconstruction is already 16 times higher than the originally planned one..

Alexander Avdeev, who served as Minister of Culture, then noted that the government made a big mistake by not taking control over the progress of the reconstruction of the Bolshoi Theater, and also called the approved reconstruction scheme “extremely unsuccessful.” And Alexei Klimenko, who in 2009 was a member of the town planning council at the Moscow mayor’s office, said that the builders who acted almost uncontrollably for several years and officials who condoned this state of affairs were guilty of waste and excess of the budget..

The architect Nikita Shangin, who left the reconstruction project back in 2008, that is, even before the embezzlement scandal began, stressed that he was leaving because officials did not listen to the opinion of the author and “disfigure the project to please the theft that flourishes on the construction of the Bolshoi Theater”.

Interestingly, as a result of the audit of the Accounts Chamber and the investigation of the Investigative Committee, no one was punished. Yes, there was a change in the general contractor, but the specific culprits were never named.

However, many analysts associate the resignation of Yuri Luzhkov, who “lost the president’s confidence,” precisely with the protracted, scandalous reconstruction of the Bolshoi Theater, although, most likely, the situation with BT was just one of the reasons for the mayor’s departure. Sergey Kruglik, the former deputy head of the Ministry of Regional Development, was also dismissed from his post, who was thus punished for the pricing policy that led to a significant excess of the initial cost..

Many participants in the reconstruction, in particular representatives of the contractor, justified themselves by the fact that the dollar exchange rate had risen over the years, and construction materials had risen in price, and the condition of the theater building turned out to be much worse than expected, but all these completely objective reasons still cannot fully explain such significant excess of budget.

Since 2009, the reconstruction of the Bolshoi Theater has been carried out at a much faster pace, the new general contractor is Summa Capital, headed by Ziyavudin Magomedov. Other companies participated in the restoration, for example, “SU-155” was engaged in the construction of an underground hall for rehearsals.

Bolshoi theater under reconstruction, autumn 2009

By the way, in October 2009, David Kaplan, who holds the post of chairman of the board of directors of Summa Capital, admitted that the Bolshoi Theater construction site is almost completely lacking the necessary estimate, design and permits. That is, the three times paid project of ZAO Kurortproekt was never completed.!

By the beginning of 2010, more than 2.6 thousand people were employed on the reconstruction of the Bolshoi Theater, as well as 992 restorers – only the area of ​​surfaces for gilding all elements of the main hall of the theater was 796 square meters.

In April 2010, the scaffolding was removed and Muscovites were able to see the updated facade of the building, which got rid of the “raid of the communist past” and again became an imperial theater, such as the architect Albert Kavos planned.

Renovated facade of the Bolshoi Theater, 2010

Already on September 28, 2011, a special commission accepted the finished theater building and preparations began for the ceremony of its grand opening.

What did the Bolshoi gain as a result of such a long and expensive reconstruction and restoration??

Of the most modern novelties, it is worth noting a computerized stage with seven platforms, which will allow you to quickly change the scenery, create volumetric, stepped scenes.

Due to the construction of six underground floors, the area of ​​the theater has doubled – from 40 to 80 thousand square meters. A lot of auxiliary premises appeared on the new floors, including a modern recording studio.

Large after reconstruction

The orchestra pit was also expanded and a new underground hall for rehearsals and concerts appeared. The room, which in Soviet times bore the name “Beethoven Hall”, again became the “Imperial Hall”, returning itself to the purple and gold scale and two-headed eagles.

The number of seats in the auditorium has decreased to 1,700, but the seats, according to the theater administration, have become much more comfortable..

According to the theater director Anatoly Iksanov, the funds were well spent – the restorers updated literally every leaf in the decoration of the Bolshoi, the main problem – the instability of the foundation, was successfully resolved, and the building took on new life and received new functionality.

Not everyone shares the theater director’s optimism. So, the soloist of the Bolshoi, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, called the reconstruction “vandalism” and noted that the ceilings in the rehearsal hall are so low that it is impossible to lift the ballerina. In addition, according to the soloist, instead of the old stucco molding, plastic or papier-mâché appeared, glued with ordinary PVA and painted with gold paint. “The viewer can easily break off a piece for memory and take it with him,” Tsiskaridze noted. The bronze handles also disappeared; they were replaced by ordinary iron, slightly ennobled with the same golden paint. Instead of a wooden floor, the corridors are tiled, on which, according to the dancer, it is impossible to get warm and easy to slip. And in the dressing rooms there are no windows and normal ventilation, and the artists spend a lot of time here – complains Nikolai Tsiskaridze.

Andrei Batalov, general director of the Moscow Kremlin museums, is ambiguous about the changes that have occurred with the Bolshoi Theater. On the one hand, indeed, many premises were returned to their original appearance, they became available to spectators, but nevertheless the adaptation of the theater building for certain functions was done to the detriment of the historical appearance of an architectural monument, which can create a dangerous precedent – emphasizes Batalov.

So, in order to make room for the import of large decorations, the portico with columns on the north wall of the theater was destroyed, which was of historical and cultural importance. Nikita Shangin notes that it was planned to move the colonnade to one of the new underground halls, which was advocated by the Ministry of Culture and the protection of architectural monuments. However, at present, the columns are lying in disassembled form in a certain pioneer camp – Shangin emphasizes..

Rustam Rakhmatullin, coordinator of the Arkhnadzor movement, also spoke out against the “adaptation of the historical monument to modern realities”.

Without exception, all funds for the reconstruction of the Bolshoi Theater (and this, we recall, is more than $ 700 million officially), were allocated from the country’s budget. On November 2, the first premiere will take place on the renewed stage of the State Academic Bolshoi Theater – “Ruslan and Lyudmila” by Yurovsky-Chernyakov. According to the latest data, the cost of tickets on ticket sites (there are simply no tickets on the theater’s official website) reaches 9-12 thousand rubles, that is, 280-380 dollars. For comparison, the average ticket price for a performance at the New York Metropolitan Opera is $ 120. How much a ticket to the Bolshoi Theater for the traditional New Year’s “Nutcracker” will cost from dealers – it’s scary to even imagine.

So ordinary Muscovites will hardly be able to afford frequent visits to the renovated, luxurious and sparkling auditorium of the country’s main theater..

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