Visiting ‘the Big’: get a tour of the Bolshoi Theatre

The Bolshoi Theatre, or ‘the big theatre’ is a highlight of any cultural visit to Moscow and tickets are notoriously hard to get and pricey. Didn’t manage to get tickets? How about you take a tour instead?Three times a week at ten past 12 the Bolshoi opens its doors to forty lucky tourists who get a tour of the building. The first twenty get a Russian speaking tour (500 Roubles) and the second twenty get an English tour (1300 Roubles). At this time of year, the tour guide was very excited to have some actual foreign tourists- not just Russians who didn’t manage to get on the Russian tour. As this suggests, it is first come, first serve, so if it is tourist season, make sure to get to the theatre early!

Set with lighting for the current production of Swan Lake
Set with lighting for the current production of Swan Lake

The tour involves walking through various sections of the five story main stage, as well as visiting the Beethoven concert hall, and a stop in the souvenir shop. You learn that it is the third building on the site, and that the chandelier actually weighs tons and used to be fuelled by small oil lamps that sometimes exploded and showered the guests sitting below with glass. In addition you get great views of the stage from different areas of the audience, get to marvel at the royal box, and possibly even get to see some action on stage. We were there when some ‘French people’ (the tour guide’s description) were filming set pieces from the current production of Swan Lake. We therefore also got to see the costumes, some of the lighting and the minimalist set. Very impressive, needless to say!

Sophie thinks about becoming a swan
Sophie thinks about becoming a swan

You can also walk through rooms which have been turned into a de-facto museum, and marvel at the intricate costumes from past productions, or at the careful decorations in the entertaining rooms previously used by the aristocracy. I disagreed with their description of the tour as a ‘backstage’ tour, because we at no point in time got to see anything other than public areas. However, I’m not sure how much of this you would get to see with an actual ticket- the presence of many security guards even in the middle of the day, and our strict instructions to stay together led me to believe that you might only be allowed into sections for which you have a ticket. Add the amount of information and the details that our tour guide had stored in her memory, and I think that the tour is worth it to see the crimson and gold theatre in real life.

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