Bolshoi comeback stumbles after artists test positive for Covid-19 | World news

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The gates of the Bolshoi have remained open even in times of revolution and war. So, after the coronavirus forced the longest hiatus on the Moscow theater schedule for more than two centuries, it was eager to bounce back.Plans were announced over the summer for something approaching a full season of opera and ballet across its three stages, and on September 6, the theater kicked off the season with a star cast performing Don Carlo by Verdi, even as Moscow continued to register hundreds of new ones. Covid cases every day.

But it didn’t take long for the realities of the pandemic to kick in: Don Carlo’s third and final performance had to be canceled at the last minute after singer Ildar Abdrazakov tested positive for Covid. Later, soprano Anna Netrebko posted on Instagram that she had also tested positive.







Don Carlo by Verdi at the Bolshoi. The final performance was canceled after singer Ildar Abdrazakov tested positive for Covid. Photography: Damir Yusupov / Bolshoi Theater

“We understand that the coronavirus has gone nowhere, the epidemic continues,” said Bolshoi Director General Vladimir Urin. “Unfortunately, in the current situation, it can become a part of our daily life that in the short term we can no longer put things into place.” He said the theater went to great lengths to make sure there were always liners available to prevent cancellations from happening too often.

Theaters around the world are struggling to find a viable way to operate amid the ongoing pandemic. Operas are particularly vulnerable, with singers often booked years in advance and extremely expensive productions involving hundreds of singers and musicians who are a box office nightmare to be canceled at short notice.

Over the summer, a few opera festivals tested life in the new reality, and a number of homes across Europe reopened thanks to strict security measures and severely limited schedules.

The Bolshoi, as a repertory theater with a huge roster of artists, is better equipped than others to function normally, although it has also made changes. The size of the orchestra has been reduced and the theater relies on internal reserves rather than importing artists when possible, due to the difficulty of travel.

Russia is still closed to most international flights, and the theater had to charter a plane to bring the directors to Moscow for the premiere of four one-act ballets that opened its dance season in early September.




Ekaterina Krysanova balancing on Vladislav Lantratov's lap



The Ninth Wave with Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov, a one-act ballet that opened in September. Photography: Natalia Voronova / Bolshoi Theater

The Bolshoi only sells 50% of the seats for all productions, and there are temperature controls at the entrance. Masks are supposed to be mandatory, but during a performance of the Romeo and Juliet ballet last week, the audio messages imploring people to wear masks were ignored by most spectators. The bar during the intervals was filled with unmasked spectators enjoying champagne and cakes.

“Unfortunately, despite constant reminders that it is necessary to wear masks, people often do not comply and this is already their own responsibility, I’m afraid. We can only ask people, we don’t have the means to force them, ”Urin said.

Russia has registered at least 4,500 new cases of coronavirus per day since the end of April, including around 600 per day in Moscow. Life in the Russian capital, however, continues with little concern for the virus after authorities began to ease strict lockdown regulations in June. Restaurants, bars and metro cars are all packed, and while wearing gloves and a mask is supposed to be mandatory, in reality only a minority bother.

Chart showing coronavirus cases in Russia

For the Bolshoi, the coronavirus shutdown is the longest period the theater has seen its doors closed since the Napoleonic invasion of the country, according to Simon Morrison, a Princeton professor who has written a book on the history of theater .

He continued his performances during the revolutionary year of 1917, while in 1941, after the Nazi invasion, the Bolshoi partly moved to the city of Kuibyshev. “As soon as the worst of the Wehrmacht air raids was over, the Bolshoi reopened in Moscow. The operations got lighter and the repertoire got simpler, but there was no extended hiatus, ”Morrison said.

Relying on this spirit of perseverance is either admirably courageous or dangerously reckless, depending on who you ask. Theater management believes that with the coronavirus here to stay at least for the next few months, they must find a way to get back to work.

Currently there are two people isolating themselves with Covid in the ballet troupe and three among the backstage teams. Urin admitted that if the cases spread more widely, the theater may have to shut down again. “Of course, if in a particular troop more people get sick, we will have to quarantine the whole troop,” he said.

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