Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Bolshoi Theater

One of our excursions set us on a tour of the world-renowned Большой Tеатр (Bolshoi Theater). The tour was fascinating, as we learned about not only the history behind the theater and its shows but also the societal class system and the Tsar's role. Historically, city theaters had their own troupes of performers whom one could see only by traveling to theaters' respective cities. With this system, a theater would frequently put on a different show every night. The Bolshoi survived the transition from the local troupe system to the modern day system of traveling troupes and "seasons" for a given show, a fire in 1853 that consumed the entire building, the Soviet era, during which time abolishment of the theater was strongly considered, and an 850 million dollar renovation project which completed in 2011.

The Bolshoi, whose construction was strongly influenced by the Tsar, also served as an appropriate location for the gala celebrating the coronation of Tsar Alexander III. In the pictures below, you may see the ballroom and modern-day reception area, its reconstruction restoring its 19th century grandeur. You will notice that the staircases are considerably wide - this was to allow women in the height of 19th century fashion (read: tight whalebone corsets and large hoop-skirts) to move up and down the stairs comfortably. Additionally, the halls on the sides of this room were quite narrow (pictures 2 and 3), allowing only one or two people to utilize the space at one time. Not by accident, this was a common hotspot of socialites of the time for exchanging secrets and the latest gossip.

Finally, we were taken to the theater itself. The architecture was breathtaking and the view from the top level daunting. Clearly situated in the center of the theater is the Tsar's Imperial Box, where the Tsar and his family would view the show. Other noble men and women of the time would fill the other boxes of the four levels above the ground floor, commonly more-so to see and be seen, than to *see* the performance. (The crescent shape of the hall of course facilitated this endeavor.) According to our guide and photographs we viewed from the theater's archive, there were traditionally no seats on the ground floor - those folks who attended the show with the GA tickets of the time had to stand. This was not a bad deal, as the view was still great, but folks had to be wary of the dangerously hot wax that frequently dripped down from the numerous candles (sorry, Edison, this was before your patent) on the lofty chandelier.

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