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Behind the scenes as the Bolshoi gets set to reopen

The clock is ticking for the opening of the famed Bolshoi Theater — and after several delays the big date on Oct. 28 is not about to be changed again.

As opening night approaches, The Moscow News looked behind the scenes to see how the theater is taking shape before the gala opening.

Sound and vision

The interiors of the former imperial opera house have been returned to their pre-revolutionary splendour, and director Anatoly Iskanov promises that the unique acoustics of the hall, lost in Soviet restorations, are back.

Iskanov was on hand to hear Spanish tenor Placido Domingo give the new auditorium a trial run, and said everyone was greatly impressed with a rendition of an aria from Tchaikovsky's "Queen of Spades".

The Soviets, who used the theater as a cultural showpiece and a meeting place for political conferences, were not kind to Bolshoi.

Decorative paintings on the 19th century walls where daubed over, floors in the hall and the orchestra pit were lined with concrete, long before the likes of UNESCO were able to take an interest in the building's fate.

Many of these lost treasures have been restored, but Iskanov believes the major difference for music lovers comes from crucial tweaks to the acoustic.

The original fretwork has been restored, and that's just the start.

"Furthermore, we restored all the previously lost acoustic shields out of special kind of spruce wood," Iskanov said. Together with new floors boasting a sound-sensitive lining, recreated acoustic systems in the orchestra pit and even chairs made of special sound-sympathetic materials, experts believe they have recreated the sound that the tsars might have heard.

It also could mean an end to secret knowledge of Bolshoi devotees, who jealously guarded their expertise of which seats had the best sound. In the restored theater all seats should be equal.

Successful reconstruction

Re-creating the imperial splendours of the theater was one of the main goals for restorers, and UNESCO experts have been satisfied with the result.

"The whole suit of rooms will be opened for visitors now," Iskanov said. Many of them, back under their 19th-century names, will host exhibitions.

A return to the neo-classical vision of Joseph Bové, a Russian architect of Italian origin, has taken some expensive ingredients.

"This is pure gold," a restorer told the Moscow News soaking brush in a little jar and putting the shiny coat on one of the doors lying right in front of the entrance.

In total 4.5 kilograms of the precious metal have been used in the restoration.

Grand opening

Tchaikovsky was the composer when the hall made its unofficial debut, and another Russian classic ­ Glinka's "Ruslan and Lyumila" ­ will be performed to officially open the season.

That might be the first chance for Moscow's opera lovers to check out the new-look home, since the gala opening is an invitation-only affair organized by the presidential administration.

For those without Kremlin connections, the best chance of getting involved on Oct. 28 is to join the crowds watching proceedings on the big screen in Teatralnaya Ploshchad.

"We also plan some extra events on the square, but this should be surprise," Iskanov said.

Outside of Moscow, Russian federal TV will screen the show and 600 cinemas across the EU have signed up for the big night.

Book early

Once the theater is back in action, would-be visitors are advised to book ahead to get to the shows they want.

Tickets typically go on sale two months before the performance, and details of the 2011-12 season are already shaping up.

Seasonal favorites like the New Year performances of "The Nutcracker" sell out fast, and there is excitement over a visit from Milan's renowed La Scala.

The Italian company will bring its singers in November, and the ballet company follows one month later.

First night nerves

There are still a few details to be tidied up before the show can go on, but after such a long wait since the theater's closure in 2005.

And part of the wait was caused by the state of the building's basement and foundations.

"We had to save the theatre, as it could crumble at any moment," Mikhail Sidorov, spokesman at Summa Capital, the chief-contractor of the grand-project, said.

Oak piles could barely carry the weight of the building by the time the restoration started, and 7,000 steel replacements have been put instead of the rotten ones which "were removed by hand", he added.

But beneath the ground things are radically different, with the work allowing a vast suite of performance, rehearsal and storage rooms to be created beneath the bustle of central Moscow.

"When you are out on Teatralnaya Ploshchad try to imagine you're on the top of a six-storey building!" Sidorov said.


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