July 01, 2011

The Grand Theater

SINCE THE BOLSHOI THEATER is, indeed, Bolshoi (i.e., big and grand), perhaps it is not surprising that it has seen its share of problems over its 200-plus-year history.

Work on the theater’s design and a search for a suitable site got underway in 1776, as soon as Catherine the Great gave Prince Urusov permission to construct a public theater in Moscow. The project was put in the hands of English businessman Michael Maddox, who managed to complete construction in five months. The theater was located on Petrovskaya Street, in other words approximately where the Bolshoi looms today. Yet, the original theater stood there only 25 years, burning to the ground in 1805.

It was rebuilt on Arbat Square. Unlike the old theater, which had been made of stone, the new one was a wooden structure. And it too met a lamentable end. Seven years after its inauguration, Napoleon invaded, followed by the infamous 1812 fire that consumed Moscow. Not a trace was left of the theater.

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