Monday, December 5, 2022

Patrice Chéreau, Obituary

Patrice Chéreau, groundbreaking opera and film director, died of cancer on October 7, 2013. He was 68 years old.

Chéreau is the French theatre director best known for his controversial staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Bayreuth in 1976. The production, conducted by Pierre Boulez, was controversial for its departure from a traditional, storybook fable, to a modern, conceptualized interpretation that played on the symbolic and psychological aspects of the story.

“For Mr. Chéreau, the story was a Marxist allegory of capitalism and the exploitation of the working class.” New York Times

“Chéreau attempted, and successfully achieved, a daring interplay of the mythological and contemporary planes on which the work is constructed. He set the action in an industrialised society, with a hydro-electric dam taking the place of the free-flowing Rhine; there were also occasional 20th-century costumes and props. He was not the first to invoke a modern setting for the action – roughly the century framed by the history of the work to date, 1876–1976 – but the incisive social critique of Chéreau’s production was regarded by some of the ultra-faithful as an outrage, and created a scandal of unprecedented proportions.” The Guardian

This departure caused controversy with the audience at the time, revolutionising modern opera and ushering in a new age of highly conceptualized theatre productions centring on the director’s vision.

“He once jokingly told me,” Mr. Gelb said of Mr. Chéreau in an interview, “that he was responsible for the movement disparagingly referred to as ‘Eurotrash,’ because his production of the Ring at Bayreuth, which is now legendary, was the first kind of high-concept operatic production that radically transformed the action.” New York Times

Chéreau’s final project was Strauss’s Elektra, for the 2013 Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Information on the production, with a link to the complete programme can be found here:


Photo Credit: Patrice Chéreau on the set of Gabrielle in 2005, starring Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory. Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex Feature Everett Collection/Rex Feature/Everett Collection/Rex Feature.


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