The dramatic move to fire director Anatoly Iksanov after 13 years at the helm of the fabled venue appears to be the government’s attempt to restore order in a theatre that has in recent years been plagued by internal divisions, rivalries and scandals.
“Without question, the theatre needs renewal,” Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky told a news conference.
Iksanov, 61, has been replaced by Vladimir Urin of Moscow’s Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre, the minister said, adding that he was confident that Urin “can unite the Bolshoi Theatre’s team”.
Speaking alongside Medinsky, Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets added: “(Urin) will be able to do everything that first and foremost the company, all of Russia and the whole world are expecting.”
Urin, 66, sought to allay fears that he would introduce major changes to the iconic establishment frequented both by the Russian tsars and top Soviet brass including Joseph Stalin.
“I am not planning any revolutions,” said Urin, adding that it had been a hard decision to leave his own theatre, where he was director for 18 years.
When the Russian culture ministry first approached him with an offer to take charge of the country’s top theatre, he refused, Urin said.
“And only then, after seriously considering and weighing all the circumstances, I agreed.”
Iksanov, whose contract had been set to expire later year, delivered a terse statement to the media.
“For all of 13 years we worked as a single team, a single collective,” he said. “Thanks to the Bolshoi.”
Iksanov last month terminated the contract of his top critic and one of the Bolshoi’s biggest stars, Nikolai Tsiskaridze.
Following the acid attack on artistic director Sergei Filin — who is now at risk of permanent blindness despite surgery — Tsiskaridze called for the theatre’s entire management to be sacked and for himself to be put in charge.
A top soloist at the ballet, Pavel Dmitrichenko, has been charged with ordering the attack and is now behind bars awaiting trial.
The attack shocked ballet aficionados by revealing poisonous behind-the-scenes feuds at the Bolshoi, whose world-famous troupe and iconic columned building make it a top cultural draw in Moscow.
In another high-profile scandal, Gennady Yanin, the director of the theatre’s ballet troupe, was in 2011 forced to resign after pornographic images allegedly involving him were posted on the Internet in an apparent smear campaign.
That same year, when the Bolshoi building, built in the 1820s, reopened after renovation work to restore its imperial splendour, critics complained the six-year-long refit costing hundreds of millions of dollars was too expensive and took too long.
The theatre’s management has also been criticised for questionable ticket-selling practices, with scalpers driving up the prices.
In the most recent flareup of tensions, Bolshoi prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova walked out of a production of Onegin in a dispute over her role.
Theatre critics praised the choice of Urin, saying he had turned the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre into a world-class cultural institution.
“Urin is a very experienced director, with a very clear vision of what a modern musical theatre is,” critic Alexei Parin told AFP, adding that the Bolshoi had nevertheless “blossomed” under Iksanov.
Another critic, Vadim Gayevsky, questioned the decision to move Urin to the Bolshoi, noting that even a top-notch manager like him will not be able to overhaul the theatre.
“This is a huge company with exorbitant ambitions,” he told AFP. ”
The culture ministry said Iksanov had been offered the post of a ministry advisor and would be given a state medal.