Although in recent years the Bolshoi has been beset by financial and artistic difficulties, and somewhat overshadowed by the remarkable resurgence of St Petersburg's Kirov, it is still one of the greatest theatres in the world, with its own proud traditions and unforgettable atmosphere. During your visit to Moscow it is very important to go to the Bolshoi Theatre because it is really an essential part of a visit to Moscow.
The building itself is one of Moscow's most symbolic sites, a truly impressive example of Russian Classical architecture that faces the Kremlin walls, and some fairly tacky open air bars and restaurants, with proud indifference. The Bolshoi is the second biggest opera house in Europe.
2002 saw the opening of a new stage, with state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment and a more intimate atmosphere akin to that of a Tsarist court theatre.
The Bolshoi takes its role as Russia's national theatre seriously, and the policy is to ensure that 70% of its repertoire is made up of Russian masterpieces. In recent years the company has made every effort to increase the number of works by 20th century Russian composers not performed or little performed in the Soviet Union, and some of the most exciting recent additions to the repertoire have been ballets and operas by Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, etc.
For genuine lovers of opera and ballet, it is worth doing some research before choosing the performance you wish to attend, as quality can be variable. For the rest of us, the breathtaking beauty of the setting, the idiosyncrasies of Russian theatre-going and the historic atmosphere should be more than enough to guarantee a truly memorable evening out.
Address: 1, Teatralnaya Ploshad, Moscow, 103009, Russia
Transport: Teatralnaya, Okhotnyi Ryad and Ploshad Revolutsii Metro Stations
What was once the Palace of Congresses is now Moscow's biggest and most "prestigious" concert hall, as well as playing host to large official functions and events.
From the start it was conceived both as a venue for governmental, diplomatic, and Party gatherings, and as a second stage for the Bolshoi Theatre. The vast auditorium can seat up to 6,000 people, making it the largest concert hall in Russia.
Address: 1, ulitsa Vosdvizhenka, Moscow, 121019, Russia
Transport: Aleksandrovsky Sad and Biblioteka Imeni Lenina metro stations
The company was founded in 1991 by conductor Evgeny Kolobov, who defected from the Stanislavsky Opera Theatre, taking many of the leading artists with him.
Kolobov, who died in 2003, had almost complete control over all aspects of the theatre, and his idiosyncratic approach dominates the company's style, not least in the indisputably high quality of the orchestra.
The theatre has around 20 operas and musical programs in its repertoire, including radically reworked versions of Tchaikovsy's Evgeny Onegin, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Mozart and Salieri, rarities like Anton Rubinstein's The Demon and Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet, and musical "entertainments" based around the life and works of, among others, Rossini and Maria Callas.
The theatre is also used by visiting ballet companies and even, on occasion, for rock concerts
Address: 3, Ulitsa Karetnyi Ryad, The Hermitage Gardens, Moscow,
Transport: Tverskaya, Pushkinskaya and Chekhovskaya metro stations
This acclaimed and unusual theatre was the brainchild of Natalia Sats, a woman who devoted her life to children's theatre as a producer and director. In 1918, when Sats was only fifteen years old, she oversaw the founding of the first theatre in Russia specifically for children, the Mossoviet Central Children's Theatre. She played a huge part in developing a repertoire for children's theatre, not least by prompting Prokofiev to compose Peter and the Wolf.
Her plans for an opera and ballet theatre were somewhat hampered by the lack of works composed for children and the reluctance of singers and dancers to commit themselves to such a project. Her indefatigable energy triumphed, however, and the theatre was founded in 1965, developing a strong repertoire from close work with contemporary composers. Originally housed in a tiny concert hall, the theatre was eventually given a fitting home in its present location, a purpose-built space with two stages, the main stage roughly equal in size to that in the Metropolitan Opera House, and almost as well equipped.
Sats' ambition with her theatre was both to create new productions specifically aimed at a younger audience, and to present the classics in a way that made them accessible to children. The repertoire today reflects her plans and, alongside new versions of fairytales such as Puss in Boots, Snow White and The Frog Princess, there are also productions of 'adult' operas like Madame Butterfly and Evgeniy Onegin. The company has an international reputation for the high quality of its performers, often younger singers and dancers on their way to greater things. Every effort is made by the theatre to create a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere for younger children and, while it may not be that easy to get kids enthusiastic about opera and ballet, it's well worth the effort to catch one of the skilled and charming performances here.
Address: 5, Prospekt Vernadskogo, Moscow, 117296,
Transport: Universitet Metro Station
This theatre, which has been running since 1927 and has occupied this 19th century building since the sixties, traditionally staged the classics of light opera, concentrating on the works of Lehar, Strauss, and Kalman, alongside "Soviet operetta", a genre perhaps best forgotten.
Nowadays the classics are performed alongside an increasing number of musicals. The leads in these productions are often taken by Russian pop stars.
These newer productions, which are helping to fill the 1,600 seat auditorium with a younger audience, may help secure the future of the theatre. The building itself, which has been remodeled several times, is not in the best state of repair - although the sound and lighting equipment is relatively hi-tech - and there has been talk of complete reconstruction, possibly leaving the theatre without a home.
Address: 6, Ulitsa Bolshaia Dmitrovka, Moscow,
Transport: Teatralnaia and Okhotnyi Ryad metro stations
Opened in 2002 by the legendary soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, the center is designed as an academy for the best young opera singers in Russia, extending their conservatory education and giving them the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in Russian opera. Vishnevskaya's stated aim is to preserve the specific traditions of Russian vocal art, and she has managed to find considerable funding and support.
The center's excellent, purpose-built theatre, which seats 318, is used to stage full operas, as well as concert performances and symphony and chamber orchestra concerts. The choice of repertoire so far has demonstrated the organizers' desire to give their charges a broad experience of different operatic styles, and to promote lesser-known and underperformed works by Russian composers. Alongside productions of Rigoletto, and Rimsky-Korsakov's A Bride for the Tsar, the theatre has also staged Glinka's Ruslan and Liudmilla, and Erenberg's almost forgotten comic opera Vampuka.
The center gives young singers the chance to gain invaluable stage experience working with established talents, and gives the public the chance to see stars-in-the-making right at the start of their careers.
Address: Building 1, 25, Ulitsa Ostozhenka, Moscow,
Transport: Kropotkinskaya or Park Kultury metro stations
Opened in 1972, the Theatre began life with a program of revivals of 18th Century Russian operas, with the company adopting many of the working methods of the period, particularly as regards the flexibility of the performers and the strong bond between members of the company. Pokrovsky, who has the reputation of being fierce, exacting and uncompromising, had a clear, individual vision of how an opera company should work, and members require several years of training to adapt to his unique style.
Now the theatre's repertoire is probably the most diverse and innovative in Moscow, with Russian rarities playing alongside European favourites, all sung in their original languages. Whatever is playing, the Chamber Opera Theatre is guaranteed to give opera lovers an intriguing and unusual evening of high-quality music and drama.
Since 1997, the company has been housed in a state-of-the-art theatre on Nikolskaya Ulitsa, with a transforming stage that can be set up in the round, proscenium, traverse etc. Depending on the format, the auditorium seats from 150 to 240.
Address: 17, Nikolskaya Ulitsa, Moscow, 103012, Russia
Transport: Ploshad Revolutsii, Lubyanka, Okhotny Ryad or Teatralnaya metro stations
The Helikon, is an extremely young company, founded only in 1990 by Dmitry Bertman, then a 23-year-old student of theatre production, who remains Artistic Director. At the start there were only seven members in a company that has now grown to over 350, and established an international reputation along the way.
Bertman is a disciple of Stanislavsky and Meyerhold, and with Helikon he has brought to opera a uniquely intense brand of psychological realism, focusing on high-quality acting as much as the music, but with no detriment to the latter.
Address: 19, Bolshaya Nikitskaya Ulitsa, Moscow,
Transport: Arbatskaya metro station