On March 28, 1776, the legendary Bolshoi Theater was created to meet the needs of the thriving Russian culture of the mid-18th century. The Bolshoi Company in Moscow was founded by Prince Pyotr Urusov and investor Michael Maddox.
Opera and ballet were seen as superior performing arts, therefore the venue for them was referred to as Bolshoi theater (meaning “grand” or “big” in Russian), while drama pieces were staged in Maly (“small”) theater.
The Bolshoi company was formed on the basis of the old private troupes and theater students. In 1780, when it acquired the Petrovsky Theater, it became the first professional repertoire theater. It produced operas, ballets, and drama.
The current Bolshoi Theater building appeared on Theater Square in Moscow in 1825 to replace the Petrovsky Theater, which had been destroyed in the fire of 1805. The opera and ballet troupes took up residence there, separating from the drama troupe, based in the Maly Theater since 1824.
Designed by architects Andrey Mikhailov and Osip Bove, the theater represents one of the finest pieces of the Imperial style and has become one of Russia’s symbols. Inside, the theater consists of a five circle auditorium housing 2100 seats and possessing exceptional acoustic qualities. Another fire, in 1853, caused extensive damage but, restored by Albert Kavos, who also completed the design of the Theater Square, the theater reopened in 1856.
Italian and Russian opera troupes coexisted on the stage of the Bolshoi, with Russian opera holding second place while the ballet repertoire consisted of mostly restaged works from the St. Petersburg productions, with rare exceptions. The “Moguchaya kuchka” (meaning “Mighty lot” in Russian), a group of five composers--Balakirev, Borodin, Kui, Musorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov, fought against Italian domination and advocated the presence of Russian national music at the theater.
The opera's fortunes rose when Sergey Rachmaninov became its chief conductor from 1904 to 1906, and included the debut of two of his own operas in the theater, featuring such outstanding singers as Feodor Chaliapin, Leonid Sobinov, and Antonina Nezhdanova.
In the years of WWII, the Bolshoi theater company showed support for the Soviet army, touring the frontlines while several artists joined the Army.
In 2003, the major building was closed for renovations and is planned to reopen in 2013. In the meantime, concerts and performances are being held in the New Bolshoi Theatre, adjacent to the original building.