Russia's Bolshoi Theater reopened Friday after a massive reconstruction effort that restored it to its original imperial splendor.
The $700 million, six-year effort meticulously recreated the opulent 19th-century decor, many elements of which had been simplified or removed during communist rule. The renovation also added state-of-the art stage gear and created an additional underground hall.
Russian and international celebrities, including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, opera diva Galina Vishnevskaya, ballerina Maya Plisetskaya and Italian actress Monica Bellucci, filled the grand gold-and-red, 1,743-seat hall in Moscow for Friday's gala opening led by Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev.
The most challenging part of the reconstruction effort was reinforcing the building's foundation and the walls weakened by erosion.
The historic building of the theater stood on thousands of stained oak stilts stuck in moist soil, but after nearby rivulets were encapsulated in underground pipes, the stilts dried and collapsed, causing numerous cracks in the walls.
Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin had wanted to close the magnificent theater, which he saw as a symbol of decadent aristocracy, but the communists ended up using the building for party gatherings.
The theater's acoustics were crippled by the remodeling of the hall and the filling of a gigantic hollow resonator under the orchestra pit with concrete.
The reconstruction removed the Soviet-era changes and restored acoustics-improving papier-mache panels, the original embroidered tapestries and other opulent decorations, which have been damaged by age and neglect. The rebuilding effort has been repeatedly pushed back amid daunting technological challenges and fund shortages.
Medvedev, who personally oversaw the reconstruction, compared the overhaul to rebuilding the theater after a devastating 1853 fire that destroyed the original building.
"Our country always managed to raise funds to put the Bolshoi in a due shape," he said. "I want to thank all those who were involved in the revival of our jewel, our grand national brand."