The Bolshoi at a crossroad

The reasons for this are many and include the theater's ongoing reconstruction as well as the current director's departure. But the theater's fans and aficionados are mainly concerned about what course the Bolshoi intends to take: into the glorious past or into the unpredictable future. The theater's new management will have to decide. The Bolshoi Theater will now be run by five conductors, instead of just one, and a musical director.
The Bolshoi Theater announced its plans in September, on the eve of the new season. Plans not just for one season, but for the next three! With specific dates and specific lists of production groups.

The real sensation, however, was the introduction to the press of the theater's new musical director Leonid Desyatnikov. That the previous director, Alexander Vedernikov, would be leaving had been the talk of the town for nearly six months. But no one had heard anything about Desyatnikov, and the secret of his appointment had been jealously guarded. The author of symphonic and chamber opuses, music for intelligent films and sophisticated plays, Desyatnikov is intimately connected with the Bolshoi. Choreographer Aleksei Ratmansky has staged two ballets to his music. Meanwhile, Desyatnikov's own Rosenthal's Children marked the first staging of a contemporary opera at the Bolshoi in three decades. Incidentally, this work contains very deft and subtle musical images of five famous opera composers from the past.

The image of Desyatnikov himself - intellectual, bibliophile, fan of Schumann and poetry from the 1920s and `30s - has more in common with the hush of a study than with the routines of backstage. Desyatnikov admits that he hasn't worked anywhere officially for 25 years; still, he could not resist the Bolshoi's "astonishing" proposal. He calls himself a crisis manager and with characteristic humor says that his work boils down to "three simple Russian words: consulting, supervising and, above all, psychotherapy."

The Magnificent Five

A bit earlier, in the middle of the summer, an extraordinary event took place: after the departure of conductor Alexander Vedernikov, the board of directors appointed five conductors representing Russia's musical art the world over. Alexander Lazarev, Teodor Kurentzis, Vladimir Yurovsky, Kirill Petrenko and Vasily Sinaisky have all signed contracts that spell out their premieres, operas and concerts both at home and on tour, but do not give them the authority to make decisions concerning the repertoire or staff. The musical authority of these top maestros is so great that the quality of their productions is guaranteed.

But as we know, "too many cooks spoil the broth". Now the Bolshoi orchestra is suddenly without a "master". Evidently, the "cook" is to be a composer. The world has many such examples, although more often, and in Russia almost always, when a theater has a large orchestra, its musical director is a conductor.

Desyatnikov, whose real goals and aims will become clear only later, considers that "the Bolshoi should become a normal theater with many average opera hits in its repertoire - a lot of Verdi, Puccini, new music and classical Russian music." In the near future the Bolshoi will present Alban Berg's Wozzeck, never before performed in Moscow, and Mozart's Don Juan. Both productions will be conducted by Teodor Kurentzis. For the first time in its history the Bolshoi will stage Die Fledermaus, the operetta by Johann Strauss. And Kirill Serebrennikov, a popular stage director with a controversial reputation, will make his debut at the Bolshoi with Rimsky-Korsakov's Le Coq d'Or under the musical direction of Vasily Sinaisky.

The Bolshoi is Looking for Talent

For now there are too many problems. It turns out that the Bolshoi's emulation of theaters abroad that do not have a permanent corps (instead contracting for particular soloists for different productions and using the "block" system of performances) has not been a success. Its opera troupe is in literal need of resuscitation. The Bolshoi intends to go back to being a repertory theater with brilliant individualists, stars who bear the Bolshoi's imprint and must be cultivated and nurtured for many long years.

The Bolshoi has already begun to recruit students for its Youth Opera Program, which will forge new members of the famous theater's troupe. Auditions for vocalists will also be held in 11 major cities around Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. For the ten spaces currently available there are already over 500 applicants. The Bolshoi Theater must have new blood. Only then can we hope that every new performance at the Bolshoi will be, as in the past, an event. A theater's position is determined, after all, by its average everyday productions, not by its premieres and galas.

Back to the Past?

Debates about the fate of the Bolshoi Theater invariably raise the question: should the Bolshoi carefully preserve its classical conquests or should it radically refurbish its repertoire? Judging by its plans, the Ballet will be feverishly trying to do both. After being headed by the "European" Aleksei Ratmansky, the ballet troupe was taken over by Yuri Burlaka who is not so much a choreographer as a restorer, an impeccable connoisseur of antiquarian ballets. This season Burlaka will stage Puni's Esmeralda with choreography by Marius Petipa. Yuri Grigorovich, famous since Soviet times, will return to the theater with an important mission: to cast young dancers in his ballets, nearly half the Bolshoi's repertoire. Grigorovich will also revive Romeo and Juliet and stage his own version of the merry classical ballet by Hertel Futile Caution. From St. Petersburg Sergei Vikharev will restore Mikhail Fokin's one-act ballet Petrushka to the music of Igor Stravinsky - in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Diaghilev seasons. The Bolshoi's own season will conclude with a miniature by the French choreographer Roland Petit Le jeune homme et la mort to music by Bach.

However, beginning with the 2010-2011 season the Bolshoi will throw itself into an experimental mode. It is planning new ballets by Forsythe, Kilian, and MacGregor, as well as the world premiere of Apocalyse by the avant-garde Angelin Preljocaj for a mixed company of Russian and French dancers. Another world premiere will be that of Leonid Desyatnikov's Lost Illusions with choreography by Aleksei Ratmansky. And in honor of the long-awaited re-opening of the historical building, Yuri Grigorovich is planning to stage Sleeping Beauty with sets by Ezio Fridgerio. Again, everything depends on the reconstruction - in the new building there are nowhere near enough rehearsal rooms and the acoustics leave much to be desired. Meanwhile, a generation is growing up for which the New Stage is the Bolshoi Theater.


Reconstruction

The Bolshoi Theater has been closed for reconstruction since 2005 when it was determined that more than 70% of the building was in need of major repairs. Bolshoi performances are currently produced on the New Stage which opened six years ago. But in this second theater there are only 800 seats, and the performers complain about the shortage of rehearsal and dressing rooms. Reconstruction of the Bolshoi was scheduled to finish in 2008, but completion has now been pushed back to 2011.

The slow pace of reconstruction has been repeatedly criticized by the Russian authorities. Now the astronomical cost of the project is also under discussion. In August 2009 the federal Auditing Chamber announced that actual costs were 16 times higher than the original estimates. This matter is now being investigated by the Prosecutor General.

The Bolshoi Theater was built in 1821-1825. It burned down and was rebuilt in 1853. In 1920 the building began to tremble during performances. It was reinforced with a cement foundation, but this affected the acoustics. The acoustics remain a primary concern and the reason why the building cannot be rebuilt from scratch.

Ballet "Korsar"

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