Russia's Bolshoi Theatre set for grand reopening

Tue Oct 25, 2011 12:23pm EDT
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By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's Bolshoi Theater reopens on Friday with a star-studded gala performance after a more than six-year, $700-million restoration dogged by delays and financial scandal to reclaim its place as one of the world's cultural jewels.

The theater, which has survived three fires, a World War II bombing and at one time was perched over an underground river, has been restored to its opulent Tsarist beginnings, doused in gold leaf, while embracing the new with cutting edge acoustics.

In what has been billed as a thoroughly Russian evening of music and dance, President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will preside over a show that will be broadcast live in Russia, Europe and the United States.

"This will be a truly national celebration," Anatoly Iksanov, the Bolshoi's general director, told a news conference. He said foreign guests were likely to include German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Full details of the show are being kept secret but it will feature the top Bolshoi dancers such as Svetlana Zakharova and Maria Alexandrova, as well as guest opera singers including Frances' Natalie Dessay and Lithuanian soprano Violeta Urmana.

Founded as a private theater in 1776 by Empress Catherine the Great to "decorate the city and also serve as the premises for public masquerades, comedies and comic operas," the theater was rebuilt in 1825 after a fire.

After years of neglect and heavy use during Soviet times, the grand cream-colored, eight-columned building close to Red Square and the Kremlin closed for repairs in 2005. The troupe continued performing on the neighboring New stage.

"By the time we closed the theater for renovation, there was a 70 percent chance of the building collapsing. That is very high. We had reached a critical point," Iksanov said.   Continued...

<p>Visitors walk in the main hall of Moscow's Bolshoi theatre October 24, 2011. REUTERS/Anton Golubev</p>