- Associated Press - Monday, April 25, 2011

MOSCOW | Russia’s venerable Bolshoi Theater — which survived fires, a Nazi bombing and Vladimir Lenin’s request to have it blown up — is almost ready to reopen after years of reconstruction and will look just as it did during the czarist era.

The theater will be finished in October in its original 19th-century design, with restored czarist insignia, embroidered silk tapestry and acoustics-improving fir and papier-mache panels, the subcontractor Summa Capital said Monday.

The rectangular building — home of the world famous Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera — also will have its original violin-shaped auditorium.

The company said some 3,500 construction workers are still busy adding sophisticated electronic and hydraulic devices, redesigning the stage floor to ease the ballet dancers’ pain and completing an underground stage located just 30 meters from a metro station.

“Directors could do things that were impossible before,” said Summa Capital’s spokesman, Mikhail Sidorov.

Workers restore 19th-century ornaments to the walls inside the building of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Russia's iconic theater has been closed for reconstruction since 2005, spawning accusations of embezzlement and fraud. (Associated Press)
Workers restore 19th-century ornaments to the walls inside the building of the ... more >

The 1825 building stood on thousands of stained oak stilts stuck in central Moscow’s constantly moist soil, but after nearby rivulets were encapsulated in underground pipes, the stilts dried up and collapsed. It was further damaged by fires and a 1941 Nazi bombing.

Soviet founder Lenin wanted the building blown up, but the communists ended up using the theater for party gatherings. Lenin’s death was announced from the theater’s stage, and the troupe was twice awarded the Order of Lenin, the Soviet Union’s highest award.

While the ballet and opera corps enjoyed generous benefits and tirelessly toured the world, the building’s acoustics were crippled by the remodeling of the hall and the filling of a gigantic hollow resonator under the orchestra pit with concrete.

After the Soviet collapse, the theater troupe tried to shed its conservative reputation by staging several controversial productions.

Another obstacle has been accusations of embezzlement and fraud in the rebuilding.

In 2005, the theater closed for a reconstruction that state auditors now say has cost at least $660 million, surpassing the original estimate 16 times. Productions continued at a nearby auxiliary theater.

Investigators said in 2009 that millions of dollars have been misspent by a subcontractor, and the Moscow government has several times fired subcontractors and officials responsible for the reconstruction.

“We’re not saying a word about our predecessors,” spokesman Sidorov said as he declined to comment on the accusations.