The National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theater of the Republic of Belarus is one of Europe’s biggest theaters and the architectural landmark of Minsk. The theater is also famous for its talented performers.
In 2013 the Bolshoi Theater of Belarus marked 80 years since founding. Over this time the theater has staged 20,000 performances and over 200 premieres.
Back in the 1920s, the first State Drama Theater of Minsk had several opera soloists, a group of choir singers and ballet dancers and a symphony orchestra. The theater staged music and drama performances, opera and ballet pieces.
In 1930 Anton Bonachich, an outstanding soloist of the Mariinsky Theater, set up the first State Opera and Ballet Studio in Minsk. The studio was a forerunner of the State Opera and Ballet Theater.
The opera Carmen starring outstanding Belarusian singer Larisa Aleksandrovskaya was the first premiere of the theater.
The theater was granted the title “Bolshoi” in 1940 and the title “Academic” in 1964.
From the very first days, the repertoire of the Bolshoi Theater of Belarus has featured the world masterpieces alongside the works by Belarusian authors.
In the 1930s famous architect Iosif Langbard suggested building a grandiose constructivism-style opera house with numerous sculptures and bas-reliefs.
The design was inspired by Roman amphitheaters, however, the initial plan was revised and several features were changed, with the number of seats reduced down to 3,000.
The new building of the theater was inaugurated in 1939 with a premiere of Yevgeny Tikotsky’s opera Mikhas Padgorny and The Fountain of Bakhchisaray ballet staged by Kasyan Goleyzovsky.
The theater became really popular when it started staging Belarusian operas and ballets, like In the Forests of Polesie opera by A. Bogatyrev, Mikhas Padgorny opera (2nd edition) by Yevgeny Tikotsky and the first Belarusian ballet Nightingale by Mikhail Kroshner (1939).
When the Great Patriotic War broke out, the theater was damaged by bombs and was looted. The artists joined the Soviet Army or were evacuated to the rear where they kept working.
Soon after the liberation of Minsk from the Nazis, the theater troupe returned to the city and opened the season with the first night of the Alesya opera by Yevgeny Tikotsky in December 1944.
Meanwhile, the reconstruction of the theater was launched under the supervision of Iosif Langbard.
The new architectural plan envisaged a tier-like design with the hall divided into pit stalls and three narrow boxes. The number of the seats was reduced to 1,200.
For the first time the hall of the theater featured tiered balconies. Andrei Bembel created wonderful settings and decorated the building with plasterwork.
A picturesque park designed by Iosif Langbard was laid out on the territory surrounding the theater.
The reconstructed theater opened its doors to the public in 1947, and by 1949 the pre-war repertoire had been restored.
The first nights of the Prince Lake ballet by Vasily Zolotarev and the Kastus Kalinousky opera by Dmitry Lukas (1949) became landmark events in the history of the national theater art of Belarus.
In 1955 the theater staged the first operatic performance for children Marinka.
The theater's repertoire started to feature the world masterpieces as well as works of Belarusian composers dedicated to the history of our country.
The calling card of the theater is the national opera and ballet performances: the King Stakh's Wild Hunt opera by Vladimir Soltan (1989) and the Passions (Rogneda) ballet by Belarusian composer Andrei Mdivani directed by Valentin Yelizaryev (1993).
In 2006 restoration and renovation works began at the theater under the guidance of architect Anatoly Shabalin. The renovation was carried out in line with photos made in the 1940s-1950s and also based on Iosif Langbard’s sketches.
The new elements include crystal chandeliers of the 1950s style, gypsum details, ceiling paintings, golden stucco work along with red velvet curtains and drapery. The interior features natural stones, marble and granite. Floors are made from nine kinds of granite and are adorned by ornaments.
Three floors have been added to the building after the renovation. Moreover, the mezzanine floor now accommodates a dressing room and a studio.
The facade of the theater is adorned by the sculpture of Apollo and two flying nymphs.
A light cascade fountain which resembles the silhouette of the theater was unveiled on the main alley. Two other alleys have been recently added, the Ballet Alley and the Opera Alley. They are adorned by the sculptures The Ballet and The Muse of Opera.
In 2009 the Belarusian President attended the opening ceremony of the theater.
The new design of the theater also features the Chamber Hall named after Larisa Aleksandrovskaya. The hall hosts vocal and instrumental music concerts along with classic one-act and modern operas.
Today, the stage of the Bolshoi Theater of Belarus (597 m2) is an ultramodern transformer consisting of 21 pitches. Each can go up to 4.6 meters above the stage and go down 3.3 meters under, change the slope to create a scenic topography.
There are hatches that are used by artists to suddenly appear on stage or disappear. The stage is also equipped with "flight" devices and the panorama-screen in the background, which gives the illusion of motion.
The "heart" of the theater is the mechanical devices of the stage:
For better visibility the stage is tilted 4° to the audience hall, and can be increased by 4 meters.
The orchestra pit has also been mechanized and may be removed into a special pocket under the stage. The theater has a complex set of ceiling mechanics, which allows changing or setting more than 50 curtains or stage sets.
The Bolshoi Theater of Belarus is equipped with the cutting-edge lighting equipment including a set for special effects with the moving image and the system of spot lights (over 400 on the big stage alone).
The theater uses a new air conditioning system developed by Belarusian scientists. This system serves the air not from the ceiling but right under the seats.
Today the repertoire of the Bolshoi Theater of Belarus has 70 opera and ballet performances. One of the priorities is the expansion of the national repertoire. The grandiose ballet Vytautas premiered by the 80th anniversary of the theater in 2013.
In addition, the Bolshoi Theater holds annual large-scale cultural projects both on its stage and in other places of Belarus:
The theater has established its branches in Mogilev, Gomel and Novopolotsk. In 2012, it opened a small ballet stage to be used as an experimental workshop for young choreographers and musicians.
The Bolshoi Theater of Belarus maintains international contacts with major theaters of the world, including the theaters of Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Poland, Slovakia and Romania. In 2013, for the first time it exchanged tours with the Estonia National Opera.
The theater has been on tours in over 30 countries around the world.
In the 2012/2013 season the theater showed 138 performances attended by nearly 160 million viewers in Germany, Austria, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and Estonia.
The Bolshoi Theater of Belarus hosts the world’s best troupes and performers. The recent guests were Saint Petersburg State Academic Ballet Theater of Leonid Yakobson, Tbilisi Z. Paliashvili Opera and Ballet Theater, Eifman Ballet…
In 2010 Andris Liepa recreated the Firebird and the Scheherazade ballets on the Belarusian stage from Sergei Diaghilev’s legendary Russian Seasons.
In 2013, as part of the World Ballet Stars project, soloists of the world-renowned theaters performed the main parts in the best classical (Don Quixote, Corsair, Swan Lake) and contemporary shows.
Larisa Aleksandrovskaya, a renowned opera artist of Belarus, works as the art director of the theater in 1951-1960. Her best stage direction is Aida. In 1927 she performed at the World Music Exhibition in Frankfurt-on-Maine, one of the ancestors of the modern Eurovision.
Valentin Yelizaryev is an outstanding ballet soloist, ballet master and choreographer who staged more than 30 shows in Belarus and worldwide. In 1986 his show starring Nina Ananiashvili and Andris Liepa won the Grand Prix of the international competition in Jackson. In 1992-2009 Valentin Yelizaryev worked as the art director of the theater.
Viktor Skorobogatov is a soloist, producer, creator and head of the Belarusian Capella.
Nina Sharubina, a singer with a rare voice pattern, is a leading stage performer and holder of Belarus State Prize 2012.
Margarita Izvorska-Yelizaryeva is Belarus’ honored figure of art, producer and art director of the opera theater in 2002-2009.