The iconic Bolshoi Theater, home to the famed ballet and opera troupes, reopens its doors today after a nearly $1 billion renovation to restore the once-crumbling theater to its 19th-century glory.
The familiar neoclassical structure near Red Square, which has bespoken Russian artistic preeminence for almost two centuries, has been completely rebuilt and lovingly restored to its 19th-century Imperial splendor, and opens its newly refurbished doors to the public today for a gala performance of the classic Russian opera "Ruslan and Lyudmilla."
For the Kremlin, which has spent almost $1 billion to reconstruct the old theater, it's a satisfying moment, and one whose metaphorical implications are hard to miss. Like the nation it symbolizes, the Bolshoi was near collapse barely a decade ago, its foundations crumbling, its ornate auditorium rent with huge cracks, and its walls held together by little more than plaster and string.
"The state of the building was catastrophic," says Mikhail Sidorov, a spokesman for the Summa Group, the construction company brought in by the Kremlin two years ago to finish the job after press reports of botched work by other contractors, four years of delays, cost overruns that amounted to 16 times original estimates, and an ongoing corruption investigation initiated by a Moscow prosecutor's office.
"When we took it over in 2009, it seemed utterly inconceivable that the theater would open by this year," he says. "But here we are. This inauguration will be a huge cultural event, not only for Russia but for the whole world."
The Bolshoi's historic interior has been completely restored to its 1896 state, the time of its last renovation. Gone are the Soviet-era motifs, including the hammer and sickle that has dominated the building's facade for almost a century, now replaced by a czarist double-headed eagle.