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Bolshoi Theater Gets New Stage - 2002-11-29

Russia's Bolshoi theater was to open Friday its long-awaited new opera and ballet house Friday night, alongside the original building.

Theater goers in Moscow have waited eight years for the pleasure of visiting the Bolshoi's second stage, after numerous construction delays and lapses in funding. On Friday night, a lucky few cast their eyes on a new production of the opera, The Snow Maiden. But the main show may well be the new stage itself.

The auditorium is shaped like a traditional Italian opera house, and decorated in pale blue, green, gray and white. A three-ton, Czech-made crystal chandelier hangs overhead, highlighting a ceiling painting, based on designs by a contemporary Russian artist.

The new stage is the same 21-meter length and 18-meter width as the original one in the Bolshoi, but the ceiling above is five meters lower. And while the lobby decor is described as straight out of Soviet times, the new technical equipment is expected to bring the Bolshoi up to world standards, with computer-operated lights, special effects and decorations. There is even a small outlet from the building's air-conditioning system installed under each seat.

Still in operation, the Bolshoi's main theater has over 2,000 seats. So, the new, smaller 900-seat auditorium is expected to host works more intimate in scale.

Artistic directors also see the new stage as a place for experimental stagings, a rare occurrence during the ultra-conservative Bolshoi's 227-year history.

The Bolshoi has tried other stages in the past - at what is now the National Youth Theater and at the present-day operetta theater. But until now, Moscow's world-famous Bolshoi has never had a second stage to call its own.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov planned to be among Friday's guests to celebrate the inaugural.

But not everyone in Moscow welcomes the development. Some critics have said the new stage leaves much to be desired acoustically. They also question the estimated cost of $60 million for the renovation.

The lead singer in the inaugural performance is quoted as saying the changes are like a new dress - a fit one has to get used to. By the time that happens, the debate will probably rage anew, as city officials also plan to restore the original Bolshoi theater as well.