The Show Goes On In Moscow

The opera Othello was playing Wednesday at Moscow's Stanislavsky Theater, reports Beth Knobel for CBS News. As on most nights, there was a full house.

Of course, that's not much of a surprise given the quality of the singing and the price of the tickets. The cheap seats go for the equivalent of under $1. The best seats in the house cost less than $3.

In a city where monthly incomes are often measured in the hundreds of dollars, even essentials like bread and milk, priced at around 25 cents and 50 cents, respectively, can be moderate expenses.

But despite Russia's financial crisis, the curtain opens here on seven shows a week, both opera and ballet.

The Stanislavsky is the second largest theater in Moscow, and while it isn't as famous as the Bolshoi, its performers are top-notch.

"The people who come here know the theater very well and love it," says the Stanislavsky's director, Vladimir Giorgevich Urin. "This is a serious part of Mosocw's intelligentsia. This is the eductated public: doctors, professors...engineers."

He says he keeps the ticket prices low in the theater so that these audience members, whose salaries are "very low", do not lose their ability to come to the show.

Nearly 900 people work at the Stanislavsky, from choreographers and directors to set designers and costume makers. It's an expensive business.

"In fact, this is something like a small town," says the director. "That means everything from the creation of the show to the rehearsals to the designing the costumes, the decorations... All of this happens within these walls and it's done by the people who work here."

So how does a theater like this stay open when tickets cost next to nothing?

The Stanislavsky, like most Moscow theaters, stays alive thanks to government subsidies. Nearly 80 percent of its budget comes from the city.

However, the financial crisis has had an effect. The devaluation of the ruble since August has whittled performers' paychecks down to almost nothing. Most of them have to moonlight to keep a roof over their heads.

Chorus singer Yulia Vergassova earns extra money as a masseuse. She says her $50-a-month salary from singing in the opera chorus is laughably small. She says some of the men work as baggage carriers in the train station.

Vyachislav Osipov, the star of Othello, has been singing here for 30 years but makes just $200 a month. Still, he's never thought of quitting.

"Things for us are hard here," he says. "I have friends inviting me to emigrate to the United States. But I stay. We have a huge number of wonderful singers here. We love our homeland, and we need to stay here during the difficult times."

The theater's director says that Russian culture tends to blossom when times are hardest. So, despite the low salaries he has to pay his company, he won't price tickets out of the reach of those whose spirits need a lift.

Thoug the tickets are cheap, they still take a big bite out of some people's budgets. Many are willing to splurge.

"We buy the cheapest tickets so we can come here more often," says a patron named Yelena. "We can't live without this."

Some of the Stanislavsky's biggest fans worry that government support for theaters may dry up if the financial crisis drags on.

But the signs for the Stanislavsky so far are good. The city is following through on a promise to give the theater several million dollars next year for a major renovation of its building.

As for the performers, they say they'll live with low salaries, because the show must go on.

Reported by Beth Knobel
Video Segment Produced by Ivan Watson
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