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French Director Patrice Chéreau, Revered for Wagner's 'Ring,' Dead at 68

By Classicalite Newsdesk on Oct 08, 2013 01:58 PM EDT

French opera, theater and film director Patrice Chéreau has died of lung cancer, aged 68. One of the most revered, one might even say iconic directors of his era, Chéreau may have finally been defeated by Napoleon--as in his doomed, but repeated efforts to make a movie about the dictator starring Al Pacino--but that experience clearly never put him off working with outsize characters, as opera remained a passion.

And he did plenty of it. There was a notable Wozzeck at the Berlin Staatsoper and the Théâtre du Châtelet, as well as an earlier Lulu (both operas by Alban Berg) from the Opéra National de Paris. And his well-travelled production of Janáček's From the House of the Dead garnered especial fame (it was filmed in 2007 at the Aix-en-Provence festival).

That Janáček reunited Chéreau with Pierre Boulez, the conductor of his greatest, and yet most notorious production--Der Ring des Nibelungen, at the Bayreuth Festival in 1976. By setting the four Ring operas during the Industrial Revolution, Chéreau emphasized the debate on capitalism in the works, and broke decisively with the impressionist Bayreuth production style of Wolfgang Wagner.

It was predictably controversial--most new Ring productions at Bayreuth are--but weathered the storm to emerge hailed as a landmark in Wagner stagings. And part of its success was due not to the concept, but to Chéreau's brilliance at depicting relationships--the regret and tenderness that ran like a current between Donald McIntyre's Wotan and Gwyneth Jones as his transgressing daughter Brünnhilde was tremendously affecting. Other cast members of that cycle included Peter Hoffman, Manfred Jung, Jeannine Altmeyer and Matti Salminen. It was filmed in its last year, 1980.

If he never attained, or in truth sought, the Hollywood buck, he made some highly distinguished pictures. Queen Margot and The Wounded Man attracted particular praise. Yet, among music fans, it is for his opera productions, that Ring above all, that he will be remembered.

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TagsPatrice Chéreau, Wozzeck, Lulu, Berg, Janáček, From the House of the Dead, Aix-en-Provence, Boulez, Wagner, The Ring, Bayreuth, Gwyneth Jones, Donald McIntyre, Queen Margot

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