Bolshoi Theatre to reopen amid fraud probe
The historic Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow will finally reopen after numerous delays and a hefty price tag of nearly $800 million that has fed allegations of fraud and embezzlement.
Since 2005, the venue for the world-class Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera has been closed for a restoration project, but it now returns to the czarist opulence of nearly two centuries ago.
Gold leaf has been meticulously layered on carved mouldings and light fixtures glisten. Seats have been re-covered in plush red velour.
Under the square in front of the theatre, entire new areas have been carved out. A computer-controlled platform can be raised to three new levels, to create new performance spaces or staging options.
The transformation has been remarkable. But the project is years overdue and so far over budget no knows for sure how much it will end up costing.
"Nobody knows which was the sum, exactly. We can presume it was about 22 billion roubles," or nearly $800 million, said arts critic Sergey Khodnev of the Kommersant newspaper, who has been following the twists and turns of the Bolshoi restoration for years.
That works out to roughly $390,000 for each of the auditorium's 2,040 seats.
There are allegations embezzlement and fraud are largely to blame for the costs and delays, and a criminal investigation is now underway.
Khodnev said it has yet to be determined whether the money was well spent and whether the grandeur of the theatre will be overshadowed by its controversy.
"Nobody knows at the moment, and I think that the legacy of these scandals will linger many years afterwards, like it was in Milan with La Scala reconstruction, for example," he said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has already been given a preview of the finished product, in the form of a personal dress rehearsal.
When the project was bogged down amid suspicions of corruption and the first contractor was replaced, the president's office took direct responsibility for finishing the restoration.
Few will argue that the end result is magnificent. And there is a real possibility few will ever know how much it really cost to restore Russia's jewel of the arts.