Balancing the Books and Staging Operas under Duress: Bolshoi Theater Management, Wartime Economy and State Sponsorship in 1941–1945

In: Russian History
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  • 1 Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Advanced Soviet and Post-Soviet-Studies, HSE UniversityMoscowRussia
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The article examines the financial history of the Bolshoi within USSR’s mobilized wartime cultural industry as an example of a cultural institution highly placed in the Stalinist establishment and symbolic canon. It explores the income-outcome flows, personnel management, the impact of evacuation, notably on Bolshoi’s hard capital, and relations with supervising authorities. The theater’s perceived importance within the war effort conditioned unshakable financial support, a non-market protective environment, and lenient administrative treatment, contrasting with logistical and personnel challenges which the house only partly mastered. This relative stability stands in contrast with the absence of strong leadership, as the director’s position was kept vacant in stark difference to most European opera theaters. The shock of 1941–1942 was absorbed with internal adjustment measures and external subventions, and the Bolshoi’s budgets swelled towards the end of the war, indicating inflation and the house’s “most-favored-opera status”. The stable and conservative management still showed shortcomings, which the state chose not to punish. The opera’s symbolic and prestige capital trumped quantitative efficiency, creating a haven in the war economy.

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