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Medvedev Hails Bolshoi at Gala Celebrating $680 Million Revamp

Bolshoi Theater
The interior of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, which re-opened in 2011 after a $680 million, six-year renovation. Photographer: Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theater via Bloomberg

Russia’s elite walked the red carpet last night to mark the historic reopening of the Bolshoi Theater after a six-year, $680 million overhaul.

An invitation-only gala concert hosted by President Dmitry Medvedev was attended by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and about 2,000 others, “the who’s who” of Russian politics, business and beau monde. Women braved the October chill in flowing night gowns and light furs to walk arm-in-arm with their black-tie companions into the revamped building.

“Our country is very big, of course,” Medvedev told the audience from the stage. “At the same time, the number of symbols that unite everybody, those national treasures, the so-called national brands, are limited. Bolshoi is one of our greatest national brands.”

Conceived in 1776 during the rule of Catherine the Great, the Bolshoi has survived three fires, wartime bombing and negligence of Soviet-period restoration which wrecked its sound quality. The crumbling building closed in 2005 amid fears that it would collapse. The revived Bolshoi has now doubled in space, with better amenities for its troupe and visitors.

“It’s incredible,” Italian actress Monica Bellucci said in an interview after the more than two-hour performance. “I am so moved, it’s perfect. Such a great work. It shows all the talent you have in this country, my God!”

Clad in a red lace dress, Bellucci was joined by former Bolshoi principal ballerina Maya Plisetskaya as well as top Russian government officials and businessmen. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin didn’t attend the performance.

Builder Tribute

Paying tribute to more than 3,600 builders, artists and engineers that worked on the refit, the show started with musicians and singers dressed in overalls and orange safety helmets. They performed a chorus song “Slavsya” from Russian composer Mikhail Glinka’s opera “A Life for the Czar.”

“We wanted to show what has been happening in this building for the past six years,” said Dmitry Chernyakov, the concert director. “A huge number of people were involved in the theater renovation and we wanted to thank them with the help of performers recreating how it was done.”

The audience was then treated to a sequence of Russian classics including excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and pieces from other ballets and operas by Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitry Shostakovich and Alexander Borodin. Russian baritone Dmitry Hvorostovsky, Lithuanian diva Violeta Urmana and French soprano Natalie Dessay all performed.

Bolshoi Burns

The show was punctuated by digital projections of scenes from the Bolshoi history, including its 1856 opening three years after it burned. In its final moments, a giant screen showed excerpts of past interviews with people who have played a part in its history including Galina Ulanova, Yelena Obraztsova, Yevgeny Svetlanov and Vladimir Vasilyev.

The young Plisetskaya said that Bolshoi used to have the best floor in the world which she had tested with her feet. Today, the 85-year-old ballet legend said she is yet to see how the floor has changed.

The renovation, financed from the state budget, was Bolshoi’s most comprehensive in the last 150 years, with golden moldings, mosaic floors and imperial tapestries being restored to their 19th-century look. Russia’s main opera hall also recovered resonating wooden panels, half of which had been ripped out, and is now back in the top ten world venues for acoustics, said Anatoly Iksanov, its general director.

The rebuild has been marred with a scandal over misspent funds and its plan was redrawn ten times. Summa Group, businessman Ziyavudin Magomedov’s holding company with gas, metals, telecommunications and transport assets, took up Bolshoi reconstruction in 2009.

Embezzlement Inquiry

That year Russian prosecutors started a criminal investigation against a previous renovation contractor on suspicion of embezzlement following delays and cost overruns. The investigation is ongoing, a spokeswoman said this week.

“Our country has always found money for the Bolshoi to be in the right state,” Medvedev said. “I am absolutely confident that all that has been done will serve for many years to generations of our citizens.”

The Bolshoi will open to the public on Nov. 2 with 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.

For information on the Bolshoi,

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