Tuesday, April 03, 2012

"some of the best acoustics in the world"

Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow finally opened after 6 years of restoration and reconstruction work. Although riven with stories of corruption and bad-budgeting it is a titanic achievement of engineering and restoration, all the more impressive for its location at the centre of a busy metropolis. The work has been done with imagination, returning the appearance of the theatre as far as possible to that of 1853-56 when it was reconstructed following a fire, by architect Alberto Cavos, but leaving some later elements. This meant reversing many changes made to its fabric in Soviet times and the reconstruction of elements lost during a 1941 bombing attack. The volume of the theatre is now almost twice that which is visible to the naked eye and it stretches far under Teatralnaya Square. Restoration work included the neighbouring Khomyakov house. The theatre now has a second stage, the Beethoven Hall, with a capacity of 300, new dressing rooms, an extended bar on the fourth floor, underground parking, a much larger main stage, and, crucially, new foundations. In Soviet times the Bolshoi Theatre was the leading political venue of the country: Communist Party congresses took place here until the 1960s. It was here that the formation of the USSR and the Soviet Constitution were announced, and the death of Lenin. Restoration work was to have commenced in the late 1930s, but was interrupted by war. Therefore, as with most of the country’s buildings, maintenance has been minimal, a signifier of the poverty of the Soviet state despite its regular displays of pomp. When engineers revealed the theatre’s foundations in 2005, it was discovered that its foundations were on the edge of collapse. The theatre was placed on steel struts, the rotting foundations removed, and the building re-pinned. New construction work includes a glass insert between the building and the northern portico, which is a replica of the original portico from the original 1825 building by Osip Bove, that had since been subsumed into the theatre as it grew over the centuries. A bridge on the fourth-storey attaches the theatre to rehearsal rooms in the next door building. These and the new underground Beethoven Hall, are the work of Pavel Andreyev from city architectural studio Mosproyekt 2. Andreyev was responsible for the new roof and inserts in the Manezh (1817) and here too is visible his use of a combination of banal high-tech with banal classical motifs and finishes. Therefore, although the theatre has been restored to a very high standard, there is an encroachment of the prevailing Muscovite inclination for the faux-historic. The restoration, however, is far more laudatory. Armies of restorers worked on the building: 956 at peak times, while 2,000 restorers were working on architectural and interior elements in their workshops. A new stage curtain has been made, as sumptuous as the 1955 version, famous for its Soviet symbols, but while the new one is also in red velvet and gold thread, it is decorated with double-headed eagles and the word Rossiya. Elements of all periods have been preserved, including some chandeliers dating to Stalinist times. Serious effort was put into revealing and restoring historic finishes wherever possible. Sculptures in niches on the exterior of the theatre, destroyed when a bomb hit it in 1941, have been remade. One of the major achievements of the new work is the restoration of the acoustics. These were seriously damaged in Soviet times when concrete was poured into the orchestra pit, papier-mache detailing was replaced with plaster and the number of seats increased. All of these changes have been reversed and a delegation from UNESCO visiting the theatre in October, gave their approval, returning the Bolshoi to its ranking as possessing some of the best acoustics in the world.

di Clem Cecil, edizione online, 28 ottobre 2011

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