The company was founded in 1776 by Prince Peter Urusov and Michael Maddox. Initially, it held performances in a private home, but in 1780, it acquired the Petrovka Theatre and began producing plays and operas.
The current building was built on Theatre Square in 1824 to replace the Petrovka Theatre, which had been destroyed by fire in 1805. It was designed by architect Andrei Mikhailov, who had built the nearby Maly Theatre in 1824.
At that time, all Russian theatres were imperial property. Moscow and St Petersburg each had only two theatres, one intended for opera and ballet (these were known as the Bolshoi Theatres), and one for plays (tragedies and comedies). As opera and ballet were considered nobler than drama, the opera houses were named "Grand Theatres" ("Bolshoi" being the Russian for "large" or "grand") and the drama theatres were called "Smaller Theatre" ("Maly" being the Russian for "small", "lesser", or "little").
The Bolshoi Theatre's original name was the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow, while the St. Petersburg Bolshoi Theatre (demolished in 1886), was called the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre.
The Moscow theatre was inaugurated on 18 January 1825 with a performance of Fernando Sor's ballet, Cendrillon. Initially, it presented only Russian works, but foreign composers entered the repertoire starting around 1840. A fire in 1853 caused extensive damage; reconstruction was carried out by Alberto Cavos, son of Catterino Cavos, an opera composer. The theater reopened in 1856. During World War II, the theatre was damaged by a bomb, but it was promptly repaired.
The Bolshoi has been the site of many historic premieres including Tchaikovsky's The Voyevoda and Mazeppa, and Rachmaninoff's Aleko and Francesca da Rimini.
Ballet and opera
The Bolshoi is a repertory theatre, meaning that it draws from a stable of productions, any one of which may be performed on a given evening. It normally introduces two to four new ballet or opera productions each season and retires a similar number. The sets and costumes for most productions are made in the Bolshoi's own workshops. The performers are drawn primarily from the Bolshoi's regular ballet and opera companies, with occasional guest performances. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been a few attempts to reduce the theatre's traditional dependence on large state subsidies. Corporate sponsorship occurs for some productions, but state subsidy is still the lifeblood of the company.
The Bolshoi has been associated from its beginnings with ballet. Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake premiered at the theatre on Saturday, March 4, 1877. Other staples of the Bolshoi repertoire include Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, Adam's Giselle, Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, and Khachaturian's Spartacus. After the death of Stalin, international touring companies from the Bolshoi became an important source of cultural prestige, as well as foreign currency earnings, and as a result the "Bolshoi Ballet" became a well-known name in the West. However, the Bolshoi suffered from losses through series of defection of its dancers. The first occurrence was on August 23, 1979. with Alexander Godunov, followed by Leonid and Valentina Kozlov on September 18, 1979 , and other cases in the following years. Bolshoi-related troupes continue to tour regularly in the post-Soviet era.
The opera company specializes in the classics of Russian opera such as Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, Glinka's A Life for the Tsar, and Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride, as well as the operas of Tchaikovsky. Many operas by western composers are also performed, especially works of Italian composers such as Rossini, Verdi, and Puccini. Until the mid-1990s, most foreign operas were sung in Russian, but Italian and other languages have been heard more frequently on the Bolshoi stage in recent years.
Some operas, such as Borodin's Prince Igor, include extensive ballet sequences. Many productions, especially of classic Russian opera, are given on a scale of grand spectacle, and can have dozens of costumed singers and dancers on stage for crowd or festival scenes.
Current status of the Bolshoi
The main Bolshoi Theatre closed for restoration in 2005, and, as of late 2009, is scheduled to reopen in October 2013. The Theatre has undergone many renovations in its lifetime, but none as major as this. The restoration will cost $US730 million (The restoration was initially due to cost 15 billion roubles ($610 million) but engineers found the structure was more than 75 percent unstable), and is funded entirely by the federal government.
The restoration will repair the foundation and brickwork. The renovation is intended to restore the original acoustics of the theatre, which were largely lost as a result of renovations during the Soviet era. Inside the theatre, the entire space has been stripped from the bottom up, the 19th-century wooden fixtures, silver stage curtain and French-made red velvet banquettes removed for repair in specialist workshops. At the very top of the facade, the two-headed eagle of the original Russian coat of arms has been installed in place where the Soviet hammer and sickle hung for decades.
The New Bolshoi Theatre, adjacent to the original and built incredibly in only six months, continues to stage an extensive repertory of concerts and performances. Since these two theatres are the most famous in Moscow, they are usually frequented by tourists, and the prices can be correspondingly much more expensive when compared to other Russian theatres, particularly for ballets, where the prices are comparable to those for performances in the West. Concerts and operas are still relatively affordable, with prices in the 300 to 2,000 rouble range for good par-terre (main floor) or balcony seats (US$1 = approximately 35 roubles). Prices do go up every year, however.
- The Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre used to exist in Saint Petersburg. It stood next to the Circus Theatre (rebuilt in 1860 as the Mariinsky Theatre), but it was replaced in the 1890s by the present-day building of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. It was at St. Petersburg's Bolshoi that the first great Russian operas, Glinka's A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Lyudmila, were premiered.
- The Bolshoi Ballet has a branch at the Bolshoi Theatre School in Joinville, Brazil.
above the portico was sculpted by Peter Clodt von Jürgensburg.]]
- Alexander Vedernikov (2001–)
- Mark Ermler (1998–2000)
- Peter Feranec (1995–1998)
- Alexander Lazarev (1987–1995)
- Yuri Simonov (1970–1985)
- Gennady Rozhdestvensky (1965–1970)
- Evgeny Svetlanov (1963–1965)
- Alexander Melik-Pashayev (1953–1963)
- Nikolai Golovanov (1948 –1953)
- Ari Pazovsky (1943–1948)
- Samuil Samosud (1936–1942)
- Fuat Mansurov
- Valeriy Levental