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Bolshoi Theatre – The beginnings

Updated: May 4, 2023


It was a day like today, March 28, 1776, when the Moscow provincial prosecutor, Prince Pyotr Urusov, received a government privilege, signed by Empress Catherine II, “to open an acting troupe” and to “maintain performances, masquerades, balls and other amusements” for a period of ten years. This date is considered the founding day of the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre.

Urusov's companion was an Englishman, an Oxford graduate, McCall Medox. Medox came to Russia to teach mathematics to the future Emperor Paul I, but inadvertently became interested in the stage.

At first, the acting troupe consisted of 43 people: 13 artists, 9 actresses, 4 female dancers, 3 male dancers, a choreographer and 13 musicians. Moreover, at the first stage of the theatre's existence, the opera, and drama troupes formed a single whole, and the composition was the most diverse: from serf artists to stars invited from abroad.

Initially, it held performances in a private home, but it acquired the Petrovka Theatre and on 30 December 1780, it began producing plays and operas, thus establishing what would become the Bolshoi Theatre. Fire destroyed the Petrovka Theatre on 8 October 1805, and the New Arbat Imperial Theatre replaced it on 13 April 1808, however it also succumbed to fire during the French invasion of Moscow in 1812.

In the early 20s of the 19th century, Petrovskaya Square was completely rebuilt in the classicist style according to the plan of the architect Osip Bove. According to his own project, in 1824 a new building of the Bolshoi Theater was built on the site of the former Petrovsky. But in March 1853 there was another fire, the cause of which could not be determined. Theatrical costumes, scenery of performances, the troupe archive, part of the music library, rare musical instruments were lost in the fire, and, of course, the theater building itself was damaged.

A competition was announced for the restoration project of the theater building, in which the plan submitted by Albert Cavos won. In the summer of 1856, the restored Bolshoi Theater was opened.

The Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera are among the oldest and best known ballet and opera companies in the world. It is by far the world's biggest ballet company, with more than 200 dancers. The theatre is the parent company of The Bolshoi Ballet Academy, a leading school of ballet.



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