December 26, 2016

1943. The Bolshoi Theatre Reopens

Night at the Bolshoi
The Bolshoi Theatre in the 1930s (source)
The parentheses indicate portions that did not pass Soviet censors for military or propaganda reasons.

(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

September 25, 1943

It's difficult to tell tonight which is bigger—the news that is now happening or the news which seems about to happen.

We cannot underestimate the fall of Smolensk. Neither can we underestimate (the Red Army's march to) the Dnieper in the south.

But it would appear that even more startling successes are in store.

Moscow today is full of unconfirmed reports; (but) they're the kind of reports you like to hear. People already are talking about the possible fall of Kiev; about Russian soldiers crossing the Dnieper; about Red Army soldiers fighting on the soil of White Russia.

All of these reports are officially unconfirmed, but all of them do not seem premature.

There is other news in Moscow tonight, which to the ordinary Russian citizen is, in its way, just as stirring as the news from the front.

I have just left the Bolshoi Theatre, where a brilliant Russian opera and ballet company is giving a first night. I had to leave at the end of the second act to take this broadcast. The opera was Glinka's Ivan Susanin, formerly called "A Life for the Tsar."

This first sight was no ordinary occurrence in Russia. The Bolshoi Theatre is the "Independence Hall" of the Soviet Union. Set just off Red Square, it's one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe, fronted with tall white columns. On the square in front of the Bolshoi Theatre, many of the bloodiest encounters of the Revolution occurred between the Soviet troops and the revolutionaries.

Just before the war, the Bolshoi was closed for remodeling. Then, in the winter of 1941, a German bomb went through the roof of the theater.

However, now the famous old building has been completely restored. Stepping into the gilded, lush interior of the Bolshoi tonight was like stepping into another world. It was a first night worthy of New York or any other capital in the world.

Women who have been giving their last pair of silk stockings for months brought them out for the Bolshoi evening. There was heady perfume. Soft lights glistened on the gold epaulets of the generals. Their ladies wore good Russian silver fox furs.

The entire diplomatic community was there—representatives of the United States embassy; Australians; the British ambassador; heads of military missions—and the Japanese.

Throughout the performance, people constantly turned to look at the big box on the left hand side of the theater nearest the stage. This is the most distinguished seat in the theater.

There had been reports earlier that perhaps Mr. Stalin would come to the Bolshoi opening. However, Mr. Stalin had not shown up by the time I left the theater during the second act.

The Bolshoi Theatre stands for the best in Russian culture; (to the Russian people it stands) as a symbol of freedom, just as our Liberty Bell does.