March 2, 2011 / 4:38 PM / 8 years ago

Vodka, gold are finishing touches on Bolshoi revamp

MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - A medieval recipe of Russian vodka, gold leaf and eggs is the key behind the finishing touches on the protracted revamp of Russia’s Bolshoi Theater, renovators said Tuesday.

Specialists on scaffolding work on the finishing of the ceiling of the main hall in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow March 1, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

After years of neglect during Soviet times, the Bolshoi’s main stage closed in 2005 and was meant to reopen in 2008. However, the eight-columned, cream-coloured ballet and opera house is now expected to be complete in October 2011.

Although it was built in 1776, gilders, weavers and decorators are working around the clock to restore the theater to its 19th century glory, the era considered its most opulent.

“Gilding is done by an old Russian vodka-based method,” said Mikhail Sidorov, communications director of Summa Capital, which has led the renovation for the past 1.5 years.

To bring back the theatre’s imperial sheen, Sidorov said they are using a medieval recipe which relies on keeping egg whites in a warm room for 40 days before mixing it with clay.

Finished off with vodka, it is then used to apply gold leaf measuring 0.1-mm thick onto the theatre’s curved ceilings and balconies. “This method keeps gold from being overused and helps retain its lustre for 50-70 years,” he told reporters.

With officials investigating allegations that millions of roubles destined for the $1-billion rebuild were stolen, and Russia’s cultural authorities growing increasingly embarrassed by delays, gilders are now fighting against time to finish.

“We are supposed to work 8-hour days, but we’ve been staying longer because of the time pressure,” said gilder Svetlana, who has been decorating the top balcony for over a year.

The rare trade — only 100 professional gilders work in Moscow — means that an additional 50 had to be brought to the capital to carry out the delicate handwork.

Plus, new seats are also being fitted to restore the theatre’s 19th century look, using weaved fabrics made by a monastery in the Russian countryside.

This reduces the number of seats for the main stage from 2,100 to 1,720, renovators said, adding that the fabric from the old seats had been ripped off in Soviet times to make more room.

The theatre’s main seating hall is expected to be finished by summer, allowing for ballet and operatic troupes to rehearse ahead of the planned October opening, Sidorov said.

Reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; editing by Amie Ferris-Rotman and Paul Casciato

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