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MOSCOW (Reuters) - The final countdown to the October reopening of Russia's Bolshoi Theater has begun with nearly all of its revamp finished, renovators said on Friday.
The Bolshoi's main stage closed in 2005, on the verge of collapse after decades of neglect. Meant to reopen in 2008, the theatre's refurbishment has been dogged by delays and caught up in a scandal over missing funds.
The eight-columned, cream-colored ballet and opera house is now set to be officially opened with pomp and much fanfare by President Dmitry Medvedev on October 28.
"Now that 99 percent of the renovation is complete, we only have the polishing left," said Mikhail Sidorov, communications director of Summa Capital, which has led the $1-billion renovation.
Although the Bolshoi theater was first built on this site in 1776, gilders, weavers and decorators have been working around the clock to restore the theater to its 19th century glory, the era considered its most opulent.
Having survived three fires, a bombing during World War Two and exhaustive use by Soviet leaders, the theater was in dire need of restoration.
By the time renovators stepped in six years ago, the Bolshoi even had deep cracks in its facade walls, Sidorov told Reuters during a tour of the theater on Friday.
The Bolshoi's return to glory includes 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.
"This was developed to extend dancers' lives, to prevent their legs from breaking into pieces," Sidorov said.
The stages will fit one on top of the other.
The first sound test by opera singers took place at the theater on Friday, and ballet rehearsals will commence with the start of 236th season in September.
Reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, editing by Paul Casciato