This past Thursday I had a spectacular experience: a visit to the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow to attend the premiere of the opera Ruslan and Lyudmila. We had a tough time getting to the theatre, but it was worth the trouble. Our adventure began when a colleague told us he'd been able to purchase tickets for a performance at the Bolshoi. This was particularly special, since the theatre has undergone a $16 billion renovation during the past several years and is only now re-opening.
After our business meetings had concluded for the day, we drove on city streets in the direction of our hotel. We never made it. The traffic was so bad, we eventually had to ditch the car on a side street, walk to the nearest metro and then travel several stops on the subway. When we emerged from the station, it was just a short walk to the theater. Here is what it looks like from the outside during the daylight:
We found our seats and the anticipation was high among the audience. The theatre itself was mesmerizing. Here is a view from the fourth balcony where we were sitting:
Yes, it was simply a sight to ravish our eyes. And all that trim on the sides that looks like it's lined with gold? Yes, that's right, more gold than I'd ever seen in one place, even outdoing the royal palace of Versailles in France. Let's take a closer look at the seating arrangements.
Now you know where at least some of the $16 Billion was spent. And after walking up several flights of stairs, we had more than one reason to have our breath taken away.
Looking up, there was more to see, a brilliant chandelier, which had also restored to magnificence.
A few minutes later, a few announcements were made, which included a request not to take photos. And I did try to comply -- with some help from weak camera batteries -- for most of the remainder of the program. With all of this visual eye candy, you might have thought that the progam itself would be an anticlimax. But when the lights dimmed, the audience quieted and the overture began. Music from the fifty piece stage orchestra easily filled the hall and the sounds blended like a well woven fabric.
This was the first time I'd attended an opera, so I really wasn't quite sure what to expect. But when the curtain rose, a large cast of singers was dressed in period costume, attending a wedding feast. So began the story. The theatre featured several high tech elements which helped those of us who didn't speak Russian. Far up above the stage, the words of the songs were displayed in both Russian and English. So as the soloists began to hit their high notes, we could follow along with the story line.
In the first act, we were introduced to Ruslan and Lyudmilla, but also found that their dreams of wedded bliss would be interrupted. By the end of the first act, they'd been banished to different parts of their country. For the rest of the performance, the two young lovers would have to overcome all kinds of obstacles in order to find each other again. But first, the curtain rose and we had our first intermission.
By now, the three of us had not eaten since lunchtime, so we headed upstairs to the grande cafe, along with many other members of the audience. This was fun, since both the men and women were decked out, often in beautiful clothing. Many of the women wore formal black, often with matching high black boots or 3 inch heels, but others wore colorful scarves, furs and many other variations. All of the finery and lively conversation helped sustain the sense that we were truly taking part in a special event.
We joined the queue for refreshments and two of us opted for champagne when we reached the front of the line. The pour was Russian and a mite sweet, but the bubbles tingled as they should and the liquid went down easy.
We returned to our seats and relaxed, waiting for the second act. The nine time zone time change was starting to catch up with me, but I enjoyed the singing and the visuals of the stage sets were impressive. The tale itself was quite predictable, but there were many outstanding musical moments. In particular, Albina Shagimuratova, who sang the part of Lyudmila, had a wonderfully expressive soprano range and kept my attention whenever she sang with her melodic sense and graceful ascension up the scales.
The third act brought us to the anticipated denouement, where the Ruslan and Lyudmila were reunited and the cast gathered again to complete the wedding celebration. And here is where I was able to snap one more picture of the scene:
When the curtain fell, the audience responded with loud applause. The cast came out to take their bows and were eventually joined by the charismatic orchestra leader Vladimir Yourovsky. Finally, the last shout died down and the final curtain dropped. It was late, so we collected our coats and walked back to the subway. Red Square beckoned just a few blocks away, but that visit would need to wait for another day.