Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre enters next reincarnation
By Friedemann Kohler Feb 12, 2006, 16:35 GMT
Moscow - Only the bare walls of the Bolshoi Theatre stand today as one of the Russian capital's most famous landmarks undergoes major renovation in the nick of time.
Using 15 billion roubles (540 million dollars) of government funds, the more than 150-year-old opera and ballet centre is to be reconstructed and enlarged underground before performances hopefully resume in autumn 2008.
As hundreds of workers swarm around the site in central Moscow, a steel cradle holds up the giant pillared entrance adorned with four horse statues.
'The portico was about to collapse. We saved it at the last moment,' says Azari Lapidus, president of the SUI-Holding construction company, as he leads guests through the gutted premises.
The current building was erected in 1825 on the site of the Petrovsky Theatre, which had been destroyed by fire in 1805. A fire in 1853 caused extensive damage and the theatre reopened in 1856 after reconstruction.
The doors closed again in July 2005 at the end of the Bolshoi's 229th season and building brigades moved in, with performances continuing on a small auxiliary stage close by.
For the architects, technicians and restoration experts involved in the reconstruction of the Bolshoi ('Big' in Russian), it is an unprecedented task.
'The theatre lies in the city centre like an island, unable to grow either to the left or right,' says the Bolshoi's general director Anatoly Iksanov.
The only way is down: the swampy ground under the theatre is being excavated for five new floors with workshops, rehearsal halls, cafes and small stages.
And for the first time in its history, the Bolshoi's foundations will rest on rock, 20 metres below the surface.
The theatre sank 20 centimetres over the years, making it necessary now to inject the brick walls with cement or bolster them with steel girders to halt the subsidence.
It would naturally be cheaper to put up a new theatre. To the outrage of conservationists, many other old buildings in Moscow were ruthlessly torn down in recent years, leaving only the original facade.
But a happy exception was made for the Bolshoi, where chief restorer Yelena Stepanova today fights for the preservation of every original component.
'In the auditorium everything was made of wood, which created the unique acoustics,' she said, adding that she is not happy with plans to lay a concrete floor under a wooden covering.
Formerly a symphony of white, red and gold, the ornate interior of the auditorium for 2,200 spectators is now covered with scaffolding.
The plush balcony drapes hang in dusty tatters, while the tsar's box is but a wooden shell.
Countless tiny wooden nails dotting its surface tell how often the box was reupholstered for the imperial family, a line of communist general secretaries, and finally Russian presidents.
An abyss yawns where the old stage once stood, its mechanical works dating to 1905 ripped out.
In October, the roof of the theatre will be removed to allow for the installation of eight steel sections of the new German-made stage, which at a record cost of 234 million dollars includes lighting, audio and video equipment.
With up to 2,000 people able to work on the site at once, the project managers are confident the theatre will reopen on time. 'We are even a little ahead of schedule,' says Lapidus of SUI-Holding.
And as an added incentive, a preliminary show is to be performed just for the builders before the grand reopening, promises Bolshoi director Iksanov.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur