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(Reuters) - Russia's Bolshoi Theater reopens on Friday after a more than six-year renovation that cost at least $700 million.
Here are some key facts about the theater:
* The Bolshoi Theater was founded by a decree of Empress Catherine the Great in 1776 which gave Prince Pyotr Urusov, chief procurator of the Moscow region, the exclusive privilege of operating a private theater in Moscow. It obliged him "to build a stone building that would decorate the city and also serve as the premises for public masquerades, comedies and comic operas."
* The current building was built in 1825 to replace the Petrovka Theater, which had been destroyed by fire in 1805. As opera and ballet were considered nobler than drama, the opera house was named the Grand Theater (Bolshoi being the Russian for large or grand).
-- The Bolshoi has seen many historic premieres including Pyotr Tchaikovsky's La Voyavoda and Mazeppa, and Sergei Rachmaninov's Aleko and Francesca da Rimini.
-- Russia's "two tenors," Ivan Kozlovsky and Sergei Lemeshev, were two of its most popular singers. They reigned supreme at the Bolshoi for years during the 20th century.
-- After World War Two, the Bolshoi became a dominant force in ballet, not just in Russia but throughout the world, producing stars including ballerinas Galina Ulanova, Maria Plisetskaya and Ekaterina Maksimovna, and male dancers such as Vladimir Vasiliev and Maris Liepa.
-- Russian ballet troupes have been trying to wean themselves off the classic repertoire so loved by their countrymen and embrace the minimalism of modern dance, but often have faced resistance from theatres and audiences alike. The Bolshoi plans to stick to a classic repertoire, its general director says.
-- The main Bolshoi theater is reopening after a six-year restoration that has installed modern stage technology and repaired run-down areas of the theater.
-- Started in 2005, the reconstruction of the interior of the main hall and stage, including the refurbishment of an interior that was once paneled with rare pine and gilded by hand with real gold before the Soviets replaced them with sound-absorbent cement and copper.
-- The theater is gaining a second stage with a sound-reflecting floor coating -- specifically designed for opera -- and a ballet stage returned to its once-famous four-degree angle that is able to absorb impact, making jumping safer for dancers.
-- The number of seats will shrink from 2,200 to 1,720 for the main stage, by replacing the rigid Soviet-era seats with ones that are wider and more comfortable. As the Bolshoi will perform on two stages, touring will have to be cut.
-- The theatre's 236th season opened last month with The Golden Cockerel, an opera based on a fairy tale by 19th century writer Alexander Pushkin.
-- The first foreign troupe to perform on the revamped stage will be Italy's La Scala orchestra and choir with Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem.
Reporting by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit