Bolshoi Confidential: Talk with Simon Morrison

On a freezing night in January 2013, an assailant hurled acid in the face of the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, Sergei Filin. The crime, organized by a lead soloist, dragged one of Russia’s most illustrious institutions into scandal.

Under Vladimir Putin, the Bolshoi Theatre has been called on to preserve Russia’s lengthy artistic legacy and to mirror its neo-imperial ambitions. As renowned musicologist Simon Morrison shows in his tour-de-force account, the attack, and its torrid aftermath, underscored the importance of the Bolshoi to the art of ballet, to Russia, and to the world.

With exclusive access to state archives and private sources, Morrison sweeps us through the history of the ballet, tracing the political ties that bind the institution to the varying Russian regimes, and detailing the birth of some of the best-loved ballets in the repertoire. From its disreputable beginnings in 1776, the Bolshoi became a point of pride for the tsarist empire after the defeat of Napoleon in 1812.
After the revolution, Moscow was transformed into a global capital; meetings of the Communist Party were hosted at the Bolshoi, and the Soviet Union was signed into existence on its stage. Recently, a 450 million restoration has returned the Bolshoi to its former glory, even as prized talent has departed.

The Theatre has been bombed, rigged with explosives and reinforced with cement. Its dancers have suffered unimaginable physical torment to climb the ranks. But, as Morrison reveals, the Bolshoi has transcended its own fraught history, surviving 250 years of artistic and political upheaval to define not only Russian culture but also ballet itself.

'The title means what it says. There’s plenty of scandal here: arson, double suicide, dead cats flung at curtain calls. At the same time, the book is energetically researched, beautifully written – fun, relaxed, sophisticated – and full of serious ideas, boldly stated’ - Joan Acocella, The New Yorker

‘Another marvelously informative book from Simon Morrison, dishing this time on Russia’s great musical theater, onstage and off. It is a wonderful read, full of intriguing spectacle and spectacular intrigue’ - Richard Taruskin, author of The Oxford History of Western Music

‘A colorful and erudite view on Russia through the tumultuous history of the sumptuous Bolshoi’ - Peter Pomeranzev, author of Nothing is True and Everything is Possible

‘Simon Morrison’s Bolshoi Confidential lifts the curtain on Russia’s best-known cultural institution. An intoxicating mix of grandeur and gossip, it charts luminous performances on stage and sordid machinations in the wings from the age of Catherine the Great to that of Vladimir Putin… Sweeping and authoritative history’ - The Guardian

About the author

Simon Morrison is a professor of music at Princeton University, a contributor to the New York Times and the New York Review of Books, and the author of, most recently, The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Visit Simon Morrison's website

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Bolshoi Confidential has been shortlisted for the 2017 Pushkin House Prize and this talk by Simon Morrison forms Part of the 2017 Shortlist Programme.