A Spring Day in Moscow: Or Bread, Beer and a Bolshoi Ballet

April 27, 2012

After class at noon Kelsey and I walked from RGGU down to Alexandrovskii Garden, next to Red Square. We stopped along the way to stroll down Tverskoi Boulevard and bought my new favorite cookies from a bakery along the way. Caramel-filled shortbread cookies and sun – pretty much all the ingredients for happiness. I knew Светлый ручей, a Shostakovich ballet, was at the Bolshoi in the evening, so we decided to wander around, ending up at the Bolshoi ticket office to check for available student tickets.

We ended up at the Bolshoi ticket office around 4:00 – I knew that student ticket sales officially began at 5:30 but thought it was worth checking out. A woman inside the ticket office pointed us back outside to the small group of students mulling near the stairs. One of them had started “the list” for student tickets, and Kelsey and I got in at 21 and 22 (of 30 available). The guy in charge of the list said we could come back a little before 5:30 to actually buy the tickets. So we wandered around a bit more, soaking up the sun.

The view as we relaxed in the sun.

We weren't the only ones relaxing! The park benches in front of the Bolshoi were packed. And yes, that is green grass you see.

We returned a little before 5:30 to find a much larger mass of students waiting around the stairs to the ticket office. I started to worry. How official was the list? Who enforced it? Would we actually get tickets?

These turned out to be unfounded worries. The list represented a line – a virtual line of the students waiting for tickets. And Russians respect lines and demand that all others around them do so. When the guard first came out, everyone rushed toward the door – then the guard asked for the list, and told the girl in charge of it to “manage the list and control the situation.” And the girl did just that – read off the names of the list, lining everyone up based on their place on the list. No one jostled, no one pushed – we were allowed to move up to our place in line. A girl from Hungary was talking with her Russian boyfriend about the other times she’d tried to get student tickets and how sometimes there is a list, sometimes not, how sometimes the list is written by early morning, if it’s a Saturday show. Weekdays it’s quite feasible to get a student ticket, but weekends are a lot trickier. Lesson learned: Lines are sacred in Russia. I needn’t have worried.

Dinner. Beer is cheaper than water, and with the warm weather, everyone is drinking it on the streets, in parks.

There’s a line of bakeries and cafes a couple streets up from the Bolshoi, so we decided to buy a nice loaf of bread to munch on for dinner – we only had about an hour after buying tickets before the start of the ballet, so our options were a bit limited. A middle-aged woman with her mother and daughter found our dinner in front of the Bolshoi endlessly amusing. She even took a photo of us and joked about e-mailing it to us.  I mean, we thought Stella Artois and a sundried-tomato-basil chiabatta, followed by an epically large chocolate-chip cookie was pretty classy, considering our time constraints and the fact that there are no grocery stores in the center of the city. (Note: The Frisbee-sized chocolate chip cookies at Le Pain Quotidien are amazing, and if you split them, well worth the $5 price tag. They were twice the price of the bread.) So following our delicious, albeit nutritionally quite pitiful, dinner, we headed off to enjoy the ballet.

THE cookie. I definitely miss a good 'ole American chocolate chip cookie, and this does the trick. While not exactly Frisbee size, it is a very large cookie.

On the ticket is printed the phrase “неудобное место” – or, “uncomfortable place/seat.” While the actual seat is just as plushly padded as all the others, the location of the seat is in the highest balcony on the ends next to the stage. Where absolutely nothing is visible. The kind older woman ushering our section assured us that after the third bell and the dimming of the lights, we could move into other empty seats closer to the center, where more than the corner of the curtain was actually visible. So as the entreacte played, we tiptoed into some of the empty seats where at least half the stage was visible.

At the Bolshoi there are three bells before the start of the performance – after the third one, even people with tickets for the main floor or belle etage (бельетаж) are not seated, but are directed to seats in the highest balcony (первый ярус). Once all of these paying ticketholders are seated, the students get to fill in any remaining places. For the second act, several more seats had freed up, as latecomers claimed their seats on the belle etage during intermission. We moved to seats a bit higher, but closer to the center, and enjoyed a much better view of the second act.

Lessons learned: Student tickets are a better idea for an opera at the Bolshoi, since you can still enjoy the music, even with a rather limited view of the stage. But as long as you’re persistent in moving into some of the other open seats after the lights dim, it’s still worth it for a ballet. A Bolshoi ballet for 50 roubles? (That’s less than $2.) Success.

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3 Responses to “A Spring Day in Moscow: Or Bread, Beer and a Bolshoi Ballet”

  1. sarahinthegoldencircle said

    Awesome advice! I might try that out this June….

  2. jgbellingham said

    $2 for the Bolshoi. Wow. That is a good reason to live in Moscow…

  3. […] To visit the theater’s bilingual English/Russian website, click here! People who enjoyed this post may also enjoy Hillary’s posts on her time at the Moscow Bolshoi in Tickets, Tickets, Tickets, Hillary Goes to the Theater, and Bread, Beer, and a Bolshoi Ballet. […]

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