Bloomberg News

Medvedev Hosts Bolshoi Gala After Scandal on $680 Million Refit

October 25, 2011

Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Moscow’s Bolshoi theater has survived three fires, wartime bombing and more recently a six- year renovation plagued by delays and alleged embezzlement.

Now the storied venue is ready to show off the 21 billion ruble ($681 million) overhaul designed to return the Bolshoi to its pre-Soviet glory.

“The theater is regaining its historic place,” said Dmitry Chernyakov, director for the opening gala concert on Oct. 28 featuring Placido Domingo, Dmitry Hvorostovsky, Violeta Urmana and Natalie Dessay. The invitation-only audience will be hosted by President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The Bolshoi’s most comprehensive makeover in 150 years involved more than 3,600 artists, designers, builders and engineers in the last two years alone. The world-renowned house has premiered operas by Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich and hosted Communist Party conferences.

“We organized a concert for builders,” Anatoly Iksanov, the Bolshoi’s general director, said. “I told them the Bolshoi is now what it should be, magnificent, with modern equipment. All conditions have been met for us to be able to create.”

The rebuild doubles the floor area to allow for a rooftop rehearsal hall, an underground auditorium that can be turned into a recording studio and new disabled access.

The plan was redrawn 10 times because of problems such as the crumbling foundations. Summa Group -- businessman Ziyavudin Magomedov’s holding company with gas, metals, telecommunications and transport assets -- took over in 2009.

Bigger Seats

Shower rooms have been added for its 900 performers and seats enlarged, restoring Italian designs of the 19th century, Mikhail Sidorov, spokesman for Summa Group, told reporters in a tour of the building.

“When in the early 2000s it was decided to reconstruct the theater, no one could foresee the real volume of works,” Sidorov said. “Cracks in the lower wall were so big that you could put a hand through. The theater could have just collapsed like a house of cards.”

Russian prosecutors started a criminal investigation in 2009 against a previous renovation contractor on suspicion of embezzlement following delays and cost overruns. The investigation is still continuing, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

Since its foundation in 1776, the Bolshoi has seen many world-class performances. It was also there that the creation of the Soviet Union was confirmed in 1922, its first Constitution was adopted, and the death of Vladimir Lenin was announced.

Gold Plating

As part of the just-ended revamp, the cream of Russia’s craftsmen worked to restore silk textiles, curtains and upholstery, gold plating and chandeliers. Venetian mosaic floors in the corridors were replicated after a small piece was found in the director’s office. Soviet-period builders had wrecked its sound qualities, tore out many pine spruce resonating panels, destroyed tapestries and whitewashed its colorful ornaments.

Iksanov, in charge of the Bolshoi since 2000, says his building is now back among the world’s top 10 best acoustic stages, up from 55th position before the main stage reconstruction in 2005.

It will open to the public on Nov. 2 with Mikhail Glinka’s opera “Ruslan and Lyudmila,” based on Alexander Pushkin’s poem. The production first played at the Bolshoi in 1846 and was chosen as a happy-end love story which incorporates choir and ballet for most of the troupe to participate. Also coming up is the “Boris Godunov” opera, “Nutcracker” and “Sleeping Beauty” ballets and performances by Milan’s La Scala opera.

The most expensive tickets for the first opera will be 3,000 rubles (equivalent to about $98), Iksanov said. The theater does not have the resources to fight touts who inflate prices, he said.

“All you can do is report them over to police, as we do,” he said.

For information on the Bolshoi, www.bolshoi.ru/en/

--Editors: Mark Beech, Farah Nayeri.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lyubov Pronina in Moscow at lpronina@bloomberg.net Marina Sysoyeva in Moscow at msysoyeva@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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