The Bolshoi Theatre is undeniably one of Moscow's most iconic attractions; its troupe a true ambassador for Russian culture the world over. This Theatre saw the premiere of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake in 1877 and The Nutcracker in 1919. Today, the Bolshoi hosts performances of both ballet and opera: each of these arguably a world leader on the international stage. Physically, the Bolshoi is Europe's second biggest opera house (after La Scala).
In its younger years, the Bolshoi theatre was seen as a smaller - provincial even - relative of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. Fortunes have definitely changed, however, due largely to a few prominent stars, such as the famous conductor Rachmaninove (the Bolshoi's principal conductor from 1904-6).
The Bolshoi's troupe takes its heritage very seriously, and as such 70% of all performances are Russian. More recently, a concerted effort has been made to showcase the work of some lesser-known twentieth century Russian composers, so you're likely to get the opportunity to experience some really unique performances, as well as exquisite renditions of infamous classics.
The Bolshoi as a troupe dates back to March 17, 1776, when a Prince Peter Urusov and English impresario Michael Maddox joined forces to represent a group of theatrical types in the city. The troupe initially performed in a private home, prior to acquiring the Petrovka Theatre in 1780. This building was situated at the Bolshoi's current site at Petrovskaya (now Teatralnaya) Square, yet was razed to the ground in 1805.
The devastating fire meant that the Petrovka Theatre passed into state control from Maddox in 1805. Adding insult to injury, the troupe's second permanent home - a wooden building, again on the current site - also burned down, this time during Napoleon's invasion of 1812. Yet another fire struck in 1853. This time, reconstruction works took a full three years, with the Bolshoi's grand re-opening scheduled to co-incide with the coronation of Aleksandr II in August 1856.
Viewed as a relic of bourgeois excess and imperial the superfluous nature of imperialist Russia, the Bolshoi Theatre was initially out of favour with the Bolsheviks following the October revolution. The theatre - in its typically resilient fashion - clung on, however. It became apparent that the theatrical tradition had acquired a revered place in the Russian psyche.
After the Second World War, in particular, the Bolshoi Ballet enjoyed great prominence in Russian Culture. The Bolshoi name not only conjured up connotations of dramatic and technical excellence within Russia - its plaudits recognised this claim the world over.
Seemingly unable to escape its tempestuous fortunes, the Bolshoi Theatre encountered new threats following the collapse of the Soviet regime. Under capitalist government, the theatre's funding was cut dramatically. An influx of new media, new influences and a whole new world of consumer products and pastimes has meant that the theatre has had a fight on its hands like never before. Many of the theatre's biggest stars now had the freedom - as well as the undeniable financial incentive - to move west, adding another dimension to the theatre's struggle to remain at the forefront of the cultural sphere.
After a spell of uncertainty, however, one could now say with confidence that the Bolshoi's star is in the ascendancy. Under its much lauded Artistic Director, Alexei Ratmansky, the troupe has staged a number of widely-acclaimed productions. A second new stage was also added to the theatre in 2002. Most exciting of all, however, is the major restoration of the Bolshoi's principal stage (in progress since 2005), which is finally expected to re-open this year. This truly is an exciting time to be a part of the drama.
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