Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Bolshoi's financial soap opera

The famed Moscow institution is awash in funding scandals.

With the recent news that federal prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation into the disappearance of millions of roubles meant to fund the reconstruction of the historic Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the saga now has as much drama as the ballets that may have once been performed on its stage. The reconstruction was much needed. Originally opened in 1825, the theatre had been neglected in recent decades, despite being the venue for two world-renowned cultural institutions, the Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera. Paint had begun to peel, performers had no more than 1.5 square metres each in which to prepare before performances and the acoustics were not what they used to be. Brickwork needed replacing and an underground river network was constantly causing cave-ins in the foundation of the building.

Awarded to the contracting company Kurortproyekt, the project was supposed to cost 98 million roubles and work was to begin in 2005 and end in 2008. But delays have been announced repeatedly, most recently giving the opening date as some time in 2013. But the real trouble began when an investigation by the Federal Audit Chamber of another federal body, the Directorate for Construction, Reconstruction and Restoration, which was wholly responsible for funding the project, found numerous irregularities in the numbers. Most alarming was the fact that the contractor had apparently been paid three times for the work, amounting to a grand total of 957 million roubles, including the handful of adjustments and additional charges that have been tacked on since Kurortproyekt initially got involved.

In attempts to gain more independence from the government, the theatre has tried to increase corporate sponsorship since the collapse of the Soviet Union, though the efforts have not been significant enough to reduce reliance on substantial state subsidies. No charges have yet been laid, but Moscow's mayor, Yury Luzhkov, has expressed concern over the delays and questionable spending in the project. The mayor has expressed vociferous opposition to the reconstruction project after not having been invited to participate in it, a fact some media have credited with slowing the project significantly.

Management at the Bolshoi Theatre maintains its separation from the construction work, saying the project details are between the government and the contractor; not it. "The Bolshoi's main task is to preserve the company and the best performances by the country's leading theatre," Yekaterina Novikova, a theatre spokeswoman, told media outlets last week. Of course, the show must go on, and so it has. The ballet and opera companies now perform to consistently sold-out shows at a new theatre - aptly named The New Bolshoi - across the street from the (old) Bolshoi, which is hidden behind scaffolding.

It is, by all accounts, a shadow of its former self. The theatre established itself as the venue for some of the best dancers and singers in Russia and, after Stalin's death, the world, though it always had a stronger association with ballet than with opera. Premieres of some of the best-known ballets were performed here, including Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake in 1877, as well as The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and Romeo and Juliet. Costumes worn in performances were once constructed by hand in the theatre's own workshops.

The theatre sits at a site in Moscow's Theatre Square, the cultural hub of the city. Before the Bolshoi, another theatre, the Petrovka, sat here as well, but burnt to the ground in 1805. Another fire burnt large parts of the Bolshoi Theatre in 1853, though reconstruction began swiftly. The theatre was again bombed during the Second World War but repaired quickly. The beloved theatre could use another quick repair now. Bolshoi means big in Russian. With the focus of this project shifting only between its delays and now a possible embezzlement scandal, it is turning into a big story indeed. But in this case, bigger doesn't mean better.

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Hajer Almosleh, the winner of the last year's short story competition, at her home in Dubai. Duncan Chard for the National

Get involved with The National’s short-story competition

Writers have two weeks to craft a winning submission, under the title and theme "The Turning Point".

 It is believed that the desert-like planet of Tatooine is being recreated for Star Wars: Episode VII. Could that be where filming in the UAE comes in? Courtesy Lucasfilms

Could the force be with us? The search for Star Wars truth

On the hunt for the Star Wars: Episode VII set, which a growing number of people are sure is in Abu Dhabi, but no one can seem to find.

 With an estimated 18,000 comic and film fans having already paid a visit to this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con, organisers are hopeful they will have surpassed last year total, of 21,000, by its close. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

In pictures: Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai

Dubai's World Trade Center was awash with people visiting this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con. Here's some of our best pictures.

 Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, presents Quincy Jones with the Abu Dhabi Festival Award as the Admaf founder Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo applauds. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival.

A candid talk with Quincy Jones about the UAE, Lil Wayne and the Abu Dhabi Festival award

The Abu Dhabi Festival honoree Quincy Jones discusses his legendary career as a music producer, the return of Dubai Music Week and why he can’t handle the rapper Lil Wayne.

 Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge arrive at Wellington Military Terminal on an RNZAF 757 from Sydney on April 7, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

In pictures: Will and Kate visit Australia and New Zealand

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge are on a tour Down Under for three weeks.

 A protester gives a victory sign during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo in November 2011. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

Street life: humanity’s future depends on ability to negotiate and sustain public space

Negotiating our ever more crowded cities and maintaining vibrant public spaces are among the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National