Bolshoi Theater of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

Bolshoi Theater of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics


(full name, State Academic Bolshoi Theater of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; GABT), the leading Soviet theater of opera and ballet and a major center of Russian, Soviet, and world musical theatrical culture.

The creation of the Bolshoi Theater was closely connected with the flowering of Russian national culture at the end of the 18th century, with the appearance of professional actors, and with the origin of Russian opera music. The Bolshoi Theater played a prominent role in establishing Russian musical theatrical art as well as in forming a national musical stage performing school.

In 1776 the public prosecutor of Moscow Province, Prince P. V. Urusov, and the entrepreneur M. G. Medoks formed a permanent troupe of the Moscow Russian Theater, which included the theater groups of N. S. Titov and of Moscow University as well as the serf actors of Urusov and others. Beginning in 1776 performances were staged in the home of Count R. I. Vorontsov on Znamenka Street. (Here in 1779, M. M. Sokolovskii’s comic opera Miller—Sorcerer, Deceiver, and Matchmaker was produced.) In 1780 the theater moved into a building constructed on the corner of Petrovka Street on the site of the modern Bolshoi Theater and came to be called the Petrovskii Theater. This was the first permanent theater in Moscow. The participation of singers in dramatic performances promoted the development of the realistic art of the Russian opera stage. Among the first actors were 1.1. Kaligraf, N. F. Kaligraf, G. V. Bazilevich, M. S. Siniavskaia, I. M. Sokolovskaia, A. G. Ozhogin, P. V. Zlov, and later E. S. Sandunova. The theater’s repertoire included operas by the first Russian composers, V. A. Pash-kevich, M. M. Sokolovskii, E. I. Fomin, and others, as well as popular works by the leading foreign composers— W. Mozart, G. Pergolesi, D. Cimarosa, and A. Grétry, among others. The theater’s ballet troupe included wards of the Moscow Orphanage as well as serfs. In 1806 the theater became a government institution under the jurisdiction of the Board of Moscow Imperial Theaters.

In 1805 the theater’s building burned down, and performances were given in various places until 1825. In 1824 a new theater was constructed on the old site by the architect O. I. Bove (using A. A. Mikhailov’s plans); it received the name Bolshoi Petrovskii Theater. This enormous building with its mighty, eight-column portico and bronze four-horse team of Apollo on its pediment, sculpted by P. K. Klodt, is an outstanding landmark of the Russian Empire style, both for its beauty and its interior arrangement. The theater was opened on Jan. 6 (18), 1825, with Verstovskii and Aliab’ev’s prologue The Triumph of the Muses. During these years an increasing place in the theater’s repertoire was devoted to the works of Russian composers. At first they were vaudeville operas, such as Aliab’ev’s The Village Philosopher and Verstovskii’s The Bustler and The Caliph’s Amusements, and divertissements, suchas “Semik,” or Merry makingin Mar’ia’s Grove and Harvest Festival (based on S. Davydov’s music), and later Verstovskii’s operas Pan Tvardovskii (1828), Vadim (1832), Longing for the Homeland (1839), and others, the best of which was Askold’s Tomb (1835). Leading singers included P. P. Bulakhov, A. O. Bantyshev, N. V. Lavrov, and N. V. Repina.

Divertissements with national themes were popular among the ballets. The successes of the ballet were connected with the arrival of the dancer and ballet master A. P. Glushkovskii at the theater in 1812. T. I. Ivanova, D. S. Lopukhinaand A. I. Voronina-Ivanova, among others, were outstanding members of the ballet troupe. With the flowering of Russian romantic opera, the romantic ballet also became firmly established; Adam’s ballet Giselle was staged in 1843. Among the ballet dancers were E. A. Sankovskaia, E. I. Andreianova, and K. F. Bogdanov.

A historical moment in the theater’s development and in the formation of realistic principles in vocal stage art was the production of M. I. Glinka’s operas Ivan Susanin (1842) and Ruslan and Liudmila (1846) and A. S. Dargomyzhskii’s opera The Mermaid (1859).

In 1853 the theater burned down. The building which was opened in 1856 was considerably redesigned according to plans by the architect A. K. Kavos; acoustical and optical deficiencies were corrected. The auditorium was divided into five tiers with a seating capacity of more than 2,000.

During the 1860’s and 1870’s, the Board of the Imperial Theaters, in order to please the aristocratic spectators, leased the Bolshoi Theater to an Italian opera company, which began to perform alternately with the Bolshoi Theater’s troupe. The privileged position of the Italians hindered Russian opera in gaining the public’s attention. Progressive leaders of Russian musical culture—V. F. Odoevskii, P. I. Tchaikovsky, and others—led the struggle against the dominance of Italian music, calling for national originality in art. New operas by Russian composers were produced at the Bolshoi—among them Serov’s Judith (1865) and Rogneda (1868); Tchaikovsky’s first opera, The Voevoda (1869); and Rubinstein’s The Demon (1879).

The Bolshoi Theater’s ballet troupe attained considerable successes. P. P. Lebedeva, S. P. Sokolov, V. F. Gel’tser, and later L. A. Roslavleva, A. A. Dzhuri, I. N. Khliustin, and N. P. Domashev were some of the well-known dancers. The choreographers J. Perrot, M. I. Petipa, and others worked in the theater; Pugni’s The Humpbacked Horse (1864), Minkus’ Don Quixote (1869), and other ballets were staged.

At the end of the 1870’s a new phase began in the history of the Bolshoi Theater. The productions of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (1877), Eugene Onegin (1881), Mazepa (1884), The Little Shoes (1887), The Queen of Spades (1891), Iolanthe (1893), and The Sleeping Beauty (1899) marked the flowering of Russian opera and ballet. M. P. Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov (1888) and N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas The Snow Maiden (1893) and Christmas Eve (1898) were performed for the first time. A. P. Borodin’s opera Prince Igor premiered in 1898. The high artistic and innovative qualities of these works and the complexity and depth of their conception promoted the development of performing art. During the second half of the 19th century such outstanding singers as E. A. Semenova, A. D. Aleksandrova-Kochetova, M. A. Deisha-Sionitskaia, E. A. Lavrovskaia, B. B. Korsov, P. A. Khokhlov, and L. D. Donskoi were active at the Bolshoi Theater.

Simultaneously with enlarging the Russian repertoire, the Bolshoi Theater managed to stage the best Western European works. In addition to the previously presented operas of W. Mozart, G. Rossini, C. von Weber, and other composers, Verdi’s Rigoletto, Aida , and Traviata ; Gounod’s Faust and Romeo and Juliet; Bizet’s Carmen; Wagner’s Lohengrin, and other operas were staged.

Worldwide recognition of the Russian vocal school came at the beginning of the 20th century, when F. I. Chaliapin, L. V. Sobinov, and A. V. Nezhdanova appeared at the Bolshoi Theater. Singing together with them on the theater’s stage were M. G. Gukova, I. V. Gryzunov, G. A. Baklanov, V. R. Petrov, G. S. Pirogov, I. A. Alchevskii, A. P. Bonachich, and other singers.

The traditions of the Russian national ballet were continued by such outstanding dancers as E. V. Gel’tser, S. V. Fedorova, V. D. Tikhomirov, M. M. Mordkin, and V. A. Karalli. The choreographer A. A. Gorskii worked at the Bolshoi Theater during these years inscribing one of the most important pages in the history of Russian ballet.

The conductors I. K. Al’tani, V. I. Suk, A. F. Arends, E. A. Kuper, and S. V. Rachmaninoff participated in the creation of opera and ballet productions, promoting the high musical level of these performances. Also to be mentioned is the chorus director U. I. Avranek and the artists A. Ia. Golovin and K. A. Korovin.

Overcoming the routine production practices of the imperial stage, the progressive theatrical leaders of the early 20th century created productions of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Maid of Pskov (1901), Mozart and Salieri (1901), Pan Voevoda (1905), Sadko (1906), and Kashchei the Immortal (1917); Rachmaninoff s Francesco da Rimini and The Miserly Knight (1906); Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina (1912, production by F. I. Chaliapin); Glazunov’s Raymonda (1900); and other works.

The Great October Socialist Revolution opened up a new era in the artistic development of the Bolshoi Theater. During the difficult years of the Civil War, the Bolshoi Theater’s troupe was kept completely intact. During an extremely severe fuel crisis, V. I. Lenin turned down a proposal to shut down the theater temporarily. Conditions were created for the creative work of the artistic company. In 1919 the theater was accorded academic status, and in 1924 an affiliate of the Bolshoi Theater was opened, occupying the building of the former Zimin Private Opera House. During the first few years of Soviet power, the question arose of creating a new, Soviet repertoire. In the mid-1920’s, operas by Soviet composers began to appear on the theater’s stage; these included Zolotarev’s The Decembrists (1925), Triodin’s Stepan Razin (1925), Krein’s Zagmuk (1930), and Pototskii’s The Breakthrough (1930). Also produced at that time were Prokofiev’s Love of Three Oranges (1927), Spendiarov’s Almast (1930), and other works. One of the most important tasks of the Bolshoi Theater during those years was the new interpretation of the opera classics, primarily of the Russian classics. In 1927 the theater staged Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov, including the scene “At the Cathedral of Basil the Blessed,” and in 1925, his opera The Sorochintsy Fair. New musical and stage interpretations were given to such operas as Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride (1918) and The Story of Tsar Saltan (1920) and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (1933) and Mazepa (1934). The theater also produced Western classics. In 1921, H. Berlioz’ dramatic legend (oratorio) The Damnation of Faust was performed. There were revivals of such Wagner operas as Das Rheingold (1918), Lohengrin (1923), and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1929).

The first successes of Soviet ballet are connected with quests for heroic revolutionary themes. In 1918 the Bolshoi Theater presented the ballet Sten’ka Razin based on A. K. Glazunov’s music. A major event in the Bolshoi Theater’s creative history was the production in 1927 of the first Soviet ballet—Gliére’s The Red Poppy —which embodied revolutionary romanticism on the stage. At the same time the theater worked on the classics. In 1919 Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker was staged for the first time at the Bolshoi; Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda, Giselle, and Don Quixote were revived. In 1921 the theater produced Stravinsky’s Petrouchka. An important landmark in the development of a Soviet repertoire during the 1930’s was the staging of Dzerzhinskii’s operas The Quiet Don (1936) and Virgin Soil Upturned (1937). In 1938, Chishko’s opera Battleship Potemkin was produced. The revivals of Glinka’s operas Ivan Susanin (1939) and Ruslan and Liudmila (1937) on the Soviet stage revealed the folkheroic essence of these works; the mass choral scenes acquired special significance.

Proceeding along the path of creating a revolutionary ballet, the Bolshoi Theater produced Asaf ev’s The Flames of Paris in 1933. One of his other ballets—The Fountain of Bakhchisarai (staged in 1936)—became one of the first examples of a Soviet psychological choreographic drama.

During these years the Bolshoi Theater troupe included such outstanding singers as People’s Artists of the Republic V. R. Petrov and L. V. Sobinov; People’s Artists of the USSR A. V. Nezhdanova, N. A. Obukhova, K. G. Derzhinskaia, E. A. Stepanova, E. K. Katul’skaia, V. V. Barsova, I. S. Kozlovskii, S. Ia. Lemeshev, N. S. Khanaev, A. S. Pirogov, M. D. Mikhailov, and M. O. Reizen; People’s Artists of the RSFSR E. D. Kruglikova, N. D. Shpiller, M. P. Maksakova, V. A. Davydova, A. I. Baturin, P. M. Nortsov, L. F. Savranskii, and N. N. Ozerov; and Honored Artist of the RSFSR V. R. Slivinskii. Prominent ballet dancers included People’s Artists of the Republic E. V. Gel’tser and V. D. Tikhomirov; People’s Artist of the USSR A. N. Ermolaev; People’s Artists of the RSFSR M. T. Semenova, M. M. Gabovich, and A. M. Messerer; and Honored Art Worker V. V. Kriger. The conductors included People’s Artists of the Republic V. I. Suk and M. M. Ippolitov-Ivanov; People’s Artists of the USSR N. S. Golovanov, A. M. Pazovskii, S. A. Samosud, Iu. F. Faier, and L. P. Shteinberg: and People’s Artist of the RSFSR V. V. Nebol’sin. Operas and ballets at the Bolshoi Theater were staged by the directors Honored Artist of the Republic V. A. Losskii and People’s Artist of the USSR N. V. Smolich; the choreographer People’s Artist of the USSR R. V. Zakharov; the chorus director People’s Artist of the RSFSR U. I. Avranek; and the artist People’s Artist of the USSR F. F. Fedorovskii.

In 1937 the Bolshoi Theater was awarded the Order of Lenin. During the Great Patriotic War (1941–45) the Bolshoi Theater company continued its activities. Part of the troupe was evacuated to Kuibyshev, where it premiered Rossini’s opera William Tell in 1942. The troupe that remained behind performed on the stage of the affiliate, where D. B. Kabalevskii’s opera Ablaze was presented in 1943.

Profound ideological disclosure together with integrity of the musical and stage ensemble characterized the postwar productions of Glinka’s Ivan Susanin (1945), Serov’s Enemy Force (1947), Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov (1948) and Khovanshchina (1950), and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko (1949).

During the 1940’s and 1950’s, People’s Artists of the USSR A. P. Ivanov, G. M. Nelepp, P. G. Lisitsian, and A. F. Krivchenia and People’s Artists of the RSFSR I.I. Maslennikova, E. V. Shumskaia, and G. F. Bol’shakov were among the members of the opera troupe. The ballet troupe included People’s Artists of the USSR G. S. Ulanova and O. V. Lepeshinskaia and Honored Artists of the RSFSR S. G. Koren’ and V. A. Preobrazhenskii. Those engaged in staging the performances included the conductors People’s Artist of the U SSR A. Sh. Melik-Pashae v and Honored Artist of the RSFSR M. N. Zhukov; the director People’s Artist of the RSFSR L. V. Baratov; the choreographer People’s Artist of the USSR L. M. Lavrovskii; and the artists Honored Art Workers of the RSFSR P. V. Vil’iams, V. V. Dmitriev, and others.

Continuing its work on the development of Soviet opera, the Bolshoi Theater staged Shaporin’s The Decembrists (1953), Kabalevskii’s Nikita Vershinin (1955), Khrennikov’s

The Mother (1957), Shebalin’s The Taming of the Shrew (1957), Zhiganov’s Dzhalil’ (1959), Prokofiev’s War and Peace (1959), Shchedrin’s Not Only Love (1961), Muradeli’s October (1964), Molchanov’s The Unknown Soldier (1967), Kholminov’s Optimistic Tragedy (1967), Prokofiev’s Semen Kotko (1970), and other operas. Soviet ballets included Prokofiev’s Cinderella (1945) and Romeo and Juliet (1946), Vasilenko’s Mirandolina (1949), Iarullin’s Shurale (1955), Krein’s Laurencia (1956), Khachaturian’s Gayane (1957), Karaev’s The Path of Thunder (1959), Prokofiev’s The Stone Flower (1959), Balasanian’s Leili and Medzhnun (1964), Melikov’s Legend of Love (1965), Vlasov’s Asel’ (1967), and Khachaturian’s Spartacus (1968). Such Western European operas as Smetana’s The Bartered Bride (1948), Beethoven’s Fidelio (1954), Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (1957), Janaček Her Foster Daughter (1958), Erkel’s Bànk Bàn (1959), Verdi’s Falstaff (for the first time in 1962), and Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1965) have appeared on the Bolshoi Theater’s stage.

During the I960’s the Bolshoi Theater’s troupe consisted of such singers as People’s Artists of the USSR I. K. Ar-khipova, G. P. Vishnevskaia, Z. I. Andzhaparidze, A. P. Ognivtsev, and 1.1. Petrov; People’s Artists of the RSFSR L. I. Avdeeva, T. A. Milashkina, V. N. Levko, G. V. Oleinichenko, V. M. Firsova, A. F. Vedernikov, E. G. Kibkalo, and A. A. Eizen; and Honored Artists of the RSFSR E. V. Obraztsova, V. A. Atlantov, and Iu. A. Mazurok. Ballet soloists included People’s Artists of the USSR M. M. Plisetskaia, R. S. Struchkova, and N. V. Timofeeva; People’s Artists of the RSFSR M. V. Kondrat’eva, E. S. Maksimova, V. V. Vasil’ev, M. E. Liepa, and N. B. Fadeechev; and Honored Artists of the RSFSR N. I. Bessmertnova, M. L. Lavrovskii, and V. P. Tikhonov. Other notable members of the troupe were the conductors People’s Artists of the USSR E. F. Svetlanov and O. A. Dimitriadi, People’s Artists of the RSFSR B. E. Khaikin and G. N. Rozhdestvenskii, Iu. I. Simonov (principal conductor since 1969), and others. Among the directors were People’s Artists of the USSR B. A. Pokrovskii and I. M. Tumanov, since 1961 principal director at the Kremlin Palace of Congresses and since 1964 principal director at the Bolshoi Theater. The principal choreographer was People’s Artist of the RSFSR Iu. N. Grigorovich and the chorus directors included People’s Artists of the RSFSR A. V. Rybnov (since 1958, principal chorus director) and A. B. Khazanov. People’s Artist of the USSR V. F. Ryndin and People’s Artist of the RSFSR and the Georgian SSR S. B. Virsaladze have been responsible for mounting productions.

The leading artists of the Bolshoi Theater’s opera and ballet troupes have performed in many countries of the world. The opera troupe has toured Canada and Poland (1967), the German Democratic Republic (1969), France (1970), Italy (1964), and Japan (1970). The Bolshoi Ballet has won worldwide acclaim and has toured Australia (1959 and 1970), Austria (1959), Belgium (1958), Bulgaria (1964), Canada (1959), China (1959), Cuba (1966), Czechoslovakia (1959), Denmark (1960), the Federal Republic of Germany (1964), Finland (1957 and 1958), France (1954 and 1958), theGerman Democratic Republic (1954, 1955, 1956, and 1958), Great Britain (1956, 1960, 1963, 1965, and 1969), Greece (1963), Hungary (1961 and 1965), Italy (1970), Japan (1957, 1961, and 1970), Mexico (1961), Mongolia (1959), Poland (1949 and 1960), Rumania (1964), Switzerland (1964), Turkey (1960), the United Arab Republic (1958 and 1961), the USA (1959, 1962, 1963, 1966, and 1968), and Yugoslavia (1965).

Since 1924 the Bolshoi Theater has had two stages—the main one and that of its affiliate. The main theater has a fivetiered auditorium with more than 2,000 seats. The length of the auditorium, including the orchestra pit, is 29.8 m, its width is 31 m, and its height is 19.6 m. The stage is 22.8 m deep and 39.3 m wide; the dimensions of the proscenium arch are 21.5 x 17.2 m. In 1961 the Bolshoi Theater acquired a new performing place—the Kremlin Palace of Congresses. Its auditorium has a seating capacity of 6,000; the floor space of the stage measures 40 x 23 m, and its height up to the flies is 28.8 m. The proscenium arch measures 32 x 14 m, and the stage floor is equipped with 16 areas for lifting and lowering objects.

The Bolshoi Theater is one of the places for holding the most important congresses, conferences, meetings, and ceremonial sessions. The Bolshoi Theater building was the site of the Fifth through Ninth All-Russian Congresses of Soviets, the First through Seventh Congresses of the Soviets of the USSR, the Sixteenth Congress of the Communist Party, the sessions of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and the Moscow soviet, as well as the First through Third Congresses of the Comintern. During the Civil War and the postwar destruction, the unheated and poorly lit auditorium often overflowed with people dressed in overcoats and topcoats. V.I. Lenin spoke 36 times at the Bolshoi Theater. During the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets (July 4–10, 1918) the Left Socialist Revolutionaries (SR’s) started a counterrevolutionary armed rebellion. During the work of the congress they planned to arrest the Soviet government headed by V. I. Lenin in the Bolshoi Theater and by the votes of the Left SR faction of the congress to “legalize” an anti-Soviet coup d’etat. The Left SR faction of the congress was arrested in the theater, and the rebellion was suppressed. After resuming their work, this congress ratified the first Soviet constitution (RSFSR). At the Bolshoi Theater, the Eighth All-Russian Congress of Soviets in December 1920 adopted the plan for the State Commission on the Electrification of Russia (GOELRO); the First All-Union Congress of Soviets on Dec. 30,1922, proclaimed the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; and the Second All-Union Congress of Soviets (January-February 1924) ratified the first constitution of the USSR. The Sixteenth Congress of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik), which was held at the Bolshoi Theater in June-July 1930, went down in history as the congress that developed the offensive of socialism along the entire front. Ceremonial sessions dedicated to anniversaries of the October Revolution and other significant events have been held in the Bolshoi Theater. Prominent figures of the Communist Party and the Soviet government have delivered reports and speeches there.


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