Back Stage Tour of the Bolshoi Theatre

By unashamedly in love with Moscow

The cost of this backstage tour is considerably less than the price of a ticket to one of the Bolshoi Ballet’s performances, which cost the same if not more than trip to Paris and back. Living in Moscow provides the opportunities to learn through touch, hearing and feeling, in comparison to just reading about these places. I learned, for example, that the massive restoration work that closed the Bolshoi from 2005 to 2011, was also an opportunity to expand the theatre underground, towards the fountain which stands proudly outside the front of the theatre. Underground, there is a new theatre hall, the Betkhovensky stage, which we visited. As soon as it opened, our helpful and knowledgeable guide Maria told us, it was closed because of the noise factor from the nearby underground station, and the whole underground complex was sound insulated.

History is imbued into the walls of this place. On looking at Nikolai II’s and Alexandra’s (his wife) initials made into a logo above the entrance to the Tzar’s Box, Maria told us, in brief, the history of the Bolshoi. A theatre was first built on this site in 1776. The location was chosen because of its close proximity to the Kremlin, and the cheap price of the land there because it was right next to the Niglinnaya river; the land was damp and used for rubbish dumps. The original Petrovsky Theatre was replaced by the Bolshoi Petrovsky Theatre. Both previous theatres burned down, and in 1856, the present theatre was built quickly, in 16 months, in the shape of an unidentified musical instrument, for the coronation of Emperor Alexander II. One of the rooms used to celebrate the coronation has the most amazing acoustics I have ever heard, it beats EMI, Apple’s studios any day. It is possible to hear somebody speaking quietly 10 meters away when there are 50 other people in the room.

One of the other unexpected surprises was a rehearsal stage, way up above the main theatre, on the 9th floor, complete with a stage that is as long and as wide as the main Bolshoi stage. The ceiling is far lower, and this stage is used for rehearsals as the main stage is almost always being used. A lone ballerina was rehearsing her steps for Don Quixote, completely engrossed in her painstaking work on points. Unable to understand all of what we had just witnessed, we visited the costume making studios, which are located in a room with windows looking out onto the roof where Apollo is drawn in a chariot by three horsemen. Here are the day time creators — the women who slave away at the costumes day after day.

We learned many fascinating details; for example, that during Stalin’s campaign against religion, the theatre adopted 35 church bells, from churches in Moscow that Stalin had demolished. The theatre itself was untouched because it was the only building big enough in Moscow then to house the Communist Party’s Congresses, and because Stalin liked to watch the occasional opera here from his own box that still exists today.