The company was founded in 1776 by Prince Peter Urussov and Michael Maddox. Initially, it held performances in a private home, but in 1780, it acquired the Petrovka Theatre and began producing plays and operas.
At that time, all Russian theatres were imperial property. Moscow and St Petersburg each had only two theatres, one intended for opera and ballet (these were known as the "Bolshoi" Theatres), and one for plays (tragedies and comedies). As opera and ballet were considered nobler than drama, the opera houses were named "Grand Theatres" ("Bolshoi" being the Russian for "large" or "grand") and the drama theatres were called "Smaller Theatre" ("Maly" being the Russian for "small," "lesser," or "little").
The Moscow theatre was inaugurated on 18 January 1825 with a performance of Fernando Sor's ballet, "Cendrillon". Initially, it presented only Russian works, but foreign composers entered the repertoire starting around 1840. A fire in 1853 caused extensive damage; reconstruction was carried out by Albert Kavos, son of Caterino Kavos, an opera composer. The theater reopened in 1856. During World War II, the theatre was damaged by a bomb, but it was promptly repaired.
The Bolshoi is a repertory theatre, meaning that it draws from a stable of productions, any one of which may be performed on a given evening. It normally introduces two to four new ballet or opera productions each season and retires a similar number. The sets and costumes for most productions are made in the Bolshoi's own workshops. The performers are drawn primarily from the Bolshoi's regular ballet and opera companies, with occasional guest performances. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been a few attempts to reduce the theatre's traditional dependence on large state subsidies. Corporate sponsorship occurs for some productions, but state subsidy is still the lifeblood of the company.
The Bolshoi has been associated from its beginnings with ballet. Tchaikovsky's ballet "Swan Lake" premiered at the theatre on Saturday, March 4, 1877. Other staples of the Bolshoi repertoire include Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" and "The Nutcracker", Adam's "Giselle", Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet", and Khachaturian's "Spartacus". After the death of Stalin, international touring companies from the Bolshoi became an important source of cultural prestige, as well as foreign currency earnings, and as a result the "Bolshoi Ballet" became a well-known name in the West. Bolshoi-related troupes continue to tour regularly in the post-Soviet era.
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