Bolshoi Reopens After 6-Year Overhaul

Constructed in 1776 by Catherine the Great, the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, which has been in the process of being rebuilt since 2005, has survived fires, a Nazi bombing, and Lenin's order to close it down. Russian art collectors of Art Kabinett network finally witnessed its opening last night. It has taken six years and at least 28 billion rubles ($688 million) but the Bolshoi Theatre reopened last night after a restoration hit by delays and corruption scandals. On the verge of collapse when the curtain came down in 2005, the historic building in Moscow now promises world-class facilities for the Bolshoi's opera and ballet companies. This has been its first major refit since 1856, when it reopened after a fire. "By the time we closed the theatre for renovation, there was a 70 per cent chance of the building collapsing," Bolshoi general director Anatoly Iksanov said. Contractors joked that the building was probably held up by "its electrical wiring". Work had been scheduled to finish in 2008 but as costs spiralled and allegations flew over massive corruption in building contracts, the reopening was repeatedly delayed. Prosecutors opened a criminal inquiry in 2009 and the main contractor was replaced. If those are typical features of modern Russia, the rebirth of the tsarist-era theatre is also viewed as a symbol of the country's revival after the traumas of communism. Vladimir Lenin once planned to blow up the theatre, but the Soviet hammer-and-sickle emblem above the stage has given way to the double-headed eagle of the Romanov dynasty that was overthrown in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Specialists spent five years restoring 20,000 crystal beads on the theatre's giant central chandelier. The boxes are gilded in the finest imperial manner with seven layers of gold leaf -- painstakingly applied with squirrel brushes dipped in rotten egg whites and whale grease; which was then washed with vodka; and polished with animal teeth. The 2150-seat theatre's Imperial Foyer, opened to celebrate the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II in 1896, has been returned to its original state with red silk wallpaper and gilded mirrors. Backstage facilities have been greatly expanded, with six underground levels, including a rehearsal hall, doubling the size of the theatre to 80,000sq m. President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin were due to attend last night's gala opening. The top Bolshoi dancers, Svetlana Zakharova and Maria Alexandrova, were to perform, with the performance broadcast on a giant screen to crowds outside, as well as on Russian television and in 600 cinemas worldwide. Meanwhile, a senior Bolsoi dancer has derided the refurbishment as like "a Turkish hotel". Nikolai Tsiskaridze told Zavtra newspaper that the facelift had been done on the cheap. "Instead of original mouldings, there are plastic or papier mache mouldings glued together and painted with gold paint. Not a single bronze candelabra is left."