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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Confusion Surrounds Bolshoi Revamp

Plans to restore and develop Moscow's landmark Bolshoi Theater have been in the pipeline for more than a decade, but remain clouded in controversy and confusion.

In an interview late last month, Nikita Shangin, the architect in overall charge of the project, said that earlier plans to make external additions -- with the exception of elevator shafts against the back wall -- were shelved after a special committee appointed by the Culture and Press Ministry ruled out altering the historic building's appearance.

"I have always insisted that the building will stay as it is known and loved," Shangin said.

Apart from its urgent need for repair, bringing the theater up to modern international standards will entail substantial and highly complex structural engineering.

The auditorium will undergo a full restoration to return it to its original 19th-century splendor.

The exterior and the interior's circulation spaces will also be restored, although the only changes there will be four extra staircases to allow the theater to be evacuated more quickly and the fireproofing of the existing ones.

Shangin said that a satisfactory ratio of backstage to onstage space in most modern opera theaters was one to four.

At the Bolshoi it is currently one to nine. Since the building cannot be extended, the only way to make the additional backstage space is to go downward.

In order to do this, the building's foundations, which have always been unstable, will be underpinned so that they rest on the limestone bedrock running under the site at a depth of 20 to 25 meters instead of sand and clay.

This will allow underground spaces to be created for dressing rooms and storing scenery and props.

Shangin said that the job of underpinning can be done while the theater is functioning, but excavating the underground space will require it to be closed for about a year.

The work will also affect the most substantial surviving part of the present building's predecessor, the surviving portico of the New Petrovsky Theater designed by Osip Bove.

When the theater was rebuilt after burning down in 1856, it was simply extended around the portico that survived, which has long hampered backstage maneuvers.

The portico will now definitely be dismantled, Shangin said.

"I am strongly against this being called destruction," Shangin said, adding that the portico's component blocks would be numbered to allow it to be re-erected elsewhere in a place where it will be accessible to the public.

"We will definitely find a way to re-erect it," he said, although it is unclear where this site will be and whether it is possible to integrate it into the reconstructed Bolshoi Theater.

It is unlikely that any work will get underway until the planning committee has finalized the reconstruction plans.

Major elements of the scheme that are still under wraps have yet to be granted planning permission. Moreover, a main contractor has yet to be found, Shangin said.