Like standing in Red Square or visiting the Kremlin, seeing a performance at the Bolshoi is one of those iconic things to do in Moscow, and I finally got tickets! The Bolshoi is a stunning venue, all glitter, gold and chandeliers, and of course the ballet itself was spectacular. We saw Giselle, which to be honest I wasn’t sure I’d like – I’m not a big fan of ghost stories and the entire second-half is set in a graveyard – but it was stunning. In fact the second-half was particularly beautiful. It was as if the choreographer had taken the dance of the swans from Swan Lake and extended it to create large sections involving the entire female corps de ballet dressed in white and dancing in union: simply gorgeous.
I also realised for the first time why certain dancers become famous. Obviously all of the Bolshoi dancers are very talented but the prima ballerina was a cut above the rest. Svetlana Zakharova danced with an incredible expressiveness. There was something about the way she used her hands – the movement from elbow to wrist to fingertips that was just exquisite. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. It doesn’t surprise me to discover that she has her own Gala performance at the Bolshoi at the end of May which is already sold out.
I’ll definitely be making a return visit, and as several people have already asked me how I got tickets, I thought I’d devote the rest of this post to giving you a bit of a guide.
The most important thing you need to know if you are planning a visit to Moscow is that the Bolshoi company goes on tour during July and August so there are no opera or ballet performances at all. Tickets are also like gold-dust during December and January particularly for popular productions such as The Nutcracker or Swan Lake. The best time to try to get tickets is in late Spring – as most Muscovites will be spending the warm evenings in cafes and bars outside, tickets are a little easier to come by.
If you don’t speak Russian then the simplest way to buy tickets is on the Bolshoi website http://www.bolshoi.ru/en/timetable/ It is an easy site to use which allows you to see which seats are still available and how much they cost. You can choose to print out your ticket or collect from the box office.
The schedule of performances is available about four or five months in advance and tickets go on sale around two or three months in advance. However, there is no particular day of the week or month that they go on sale, so if there is something you really want tickets for then you just need to check every day.
Tickets purchased through the website are non-refundable and non-transferable. You also need to be aware that the small print says they may check the ticket-holder’s name against their ID – so make sure that the name for each person matches their passport.
Where to sit
I’ll keep updating this section but these are my initial thoughts on good seats to look out for: If you want leg-room then row 12 in the stalls is your best (although most expensive) bet because there is an aisle immediately in front of it. If (like me) you worry about having people’s heads in your way then the stalls might not be so good an option – you’d be better off (and save yourself money) with the front row of the 1st gallery circle. The front row of the 2nd circle is a good bargain (about a third cheaper than the stalls) especially for the opera where you don’t need to see the dancer’s feet! Obviously if you just want cheap tickets then there is always the 4th circle but I’m not sure how much you’d see!
What to wear
I wore the kind of smart skirt and top that I used to wear when I still had an office job (and probably about a third of the other patrons were similarly dressed), but most people wore something a little fancier so next time I’d choose the kind of dress that I’d usually wear to a smart restaurant or party. Having said that, I did see a handful of people (men and women) wearing jeans.
Taking the kids
Children over the age of 5 are allowed to attend afternoon performances and children over 10 are allowed to attend in the evening (although some performances are labelled as suitable for adults only).
One last tip
If you don’t speak Russian then give yourself plenty of time to find your seat. Although there are some signs in English, not all of the signs are, so get there early!