Russians take their arts very seriously, and even the smallest of dance companies and music schools demands perfection from performers to a degree that no other nation seems to match. This leaves less room for amateur and experimental performance, but means that any show you see in Russia will feature rigorously trained artists. Despite this rigidity, Russian dancers, singers, and musicians manage to infuse their art with a powerful, often tragic, passion. Even if it sounds trite, you'll never forget watching a Russian ballerina interpret the dying swan in Swan Lake in her (and Tchaikovsky's) homeland, or hearing a Russian pianist resurrect Rachmaninoff in the conservatory where the great composer played.
Performances generally start at 7pm. Moscow's major theaters close down in July and August. Some, such as the Bolshoi Theater, stay open but send their regular troupes on vacation (or on tour) in the summer and host visiting companies instead.
Festivals to watch for include the Cherry Orchard Arts Festival in early May, with symphony concerts, plays, and dance parties; the Easter Arts Festival in spring, with classical music concerts, church concerts, and dance performances; and the Russian Winter Festival around Christmas and New Year's, featuring top Russian dancers and musicians. The Tchaikovsky Competition, one of the world's premier classical music contests, is held every 4 years at the Moscow Conservatory.
Buying Tickets -- Russian theaters rarely run one show at a time. Instead, they have a constantly rotating repertoire; for example, the Bolshoi Theater runs Giselle once or twice a month all season long. Tickets for top venues are available through most hotels, though they often include a hefty service charge, and the choice is limited. If you're looking for something cheaper or more unusual, you can try the independent theater kiosks throughout the city and in several metro stations. These can offer same-day tickets for conservatory concerts or daring new operas. Lists of available performances are often written out on index cards in Russian, making for chaotic reading. If you're looking for something specific, just ask -- there's a good chance either the vendor or another customer will speak English. These sources are generally reliable, but be sure to check your ticket (sometimes just a flimsy paper with the theater's name and the show's name stamped on it) for the proper date and time. Dates are written European-style, with the day before the month, and times are usually written using the 24-hour clock. Punctuation varies too. So "19.00; 01.07.10" means 7pm on July 1, 2010.
Classical music performances in Russia are perhaps the country's most underrated pleasure. The performers are rigorously trained, the concert halls are rich with history and architecturally inspiring, and you can enjoy it all for just a few dollars. For the full experience, select a performance of a Russian composer in a hall where he once played, even if the music is unfamiliar. In addition to the listings, several estate museums around town host chamber music concerts in the warm-weather months. Combine the performance with a walk around aristocratic gardens and a tour of the museum exhibit for an idyllic summer evening.
Russian opera is less renowned abroad than its ballet, but opera fans will appreciate hearing gems by Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky in their home country, performed by top-notch singers. Opera tickets at the Bolshoi Theater cost less than ballet tickets and sell out less often, but that's more a reflection of ballet's popularity than the opera's quality.
English-language theater troupes sometimes visit Moscow and perform Russian classics, and occasionally Russian theater companies stage a few performances in English. See the English-language newspaper The Moscow Times for listings of English-language theater (www.themoscowtimes.com).
Theater Dining -- Because Moscow's theaters are spread out throughout town, there's no real theater district dining. Many Russian restaurants don't start dinner service until 7pm, which is when most performances begin, so you may have to wait until after the show to eat. If you're in the area of the Bolshoi Theater in summer, treat yourself to an after-theater confection at the Metropol tearoom followed by a stroll through Red Square to watch the midnight sunset.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.