MOSCOW Nudity, video, puppets and an ultra-modern twist on Mikhail Glinka's folkloric romantic opera "Ruslan and Lyudmila" will be the first full production to grace the stage of Russia's newly renovated Bolshoi theatre.
One of Russia's most revered cultural symbols may confound its legions of traditional fans at home with director and Bolshoi darling Dmitry Chernyakov's adaptation of a classic opera based on a poem by Alexander Pushkin.
"The production is certainly modern in its theme. We are trying to bring the characters closer to reality so the viewer can believe that they are real and not made up," Chernyakov told reporters ahead of a dress rehearsal.
When the first public audience sits down on Wednesday, the Bolshoi's curtains -- with the name Russia scrawled across them in crimson and gold -- will part to reveal an elaborate pastel blue set reminiscent of traditional Russian Easter eggs.
Large electronic screens will vie for the audience's attention with actors in full period costume, acrobats and jugglers. Naked women will dash across the stage and the cast will make sudden transitions into modern-day life.
Protagonist Lyudmila, played by Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova from Houston's Grand Opera, even receives a Thai massage from two young women while a brawny, tattooed admirer dances around her.
It is by far the most modern take on the opera on the Bolshoi's historic stage, where it has been performed more than 700 times in nine different versions over the past 165 years.
Chernyakov, whose first theatre visit was to the Bolshoi as a child with his mother, said it was hard to disconnect the ties to his past and to his motherland.
"I try to stay focused and not give in to nostalgia, not to think that I work in a 230-year-old theatre, because it makes me shy and disoriented," he said.
The cream-coloured, eight-columned ballet and opera house is admired the world over as Russia's home of the classics. Founded in 1776, the Bolshoi's main stage was closed in 2005 after years of neglect and heavy use during Soviet times and has now been restored to its opulent Tsarist-era glory.
Having survived three fires, a World War Two bombing and the dangers of an underground river, the Bolshoi has been re-covered in gold leaf, rare pine panels and had cutting-edge acoustics fitted in time for its gala re-opening party held on Friday.
"It is easy for me to sing here, my voice sounds smooth," said Shagimuratova, whose plaited dark brown wig reached below her knees.
Ruslan and Lyudmila runs at the Bolshoi until November 11.
(Reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya and Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Paul Casciato)