French director Patrice Chéreau died yesterday from lung cancer, at age sixty-eight. I knew him mostly for his groundbreaking productions of Wagner’s operas, which, in my opinion, have come closer to bringing the composer’s universe onto the stage than any others I have seen. It’s hard to think of a single contemporary director today who has done as much, with such consistency, over a career spanning so many decades.
Chéreau’s 1976 Bayreuth Ring, in particular, shatters every preconceived notion about what it means to perform Wagner. In a time and place given over to conservatism and literalism, Chéreau dared to interpret Wagner symbolically rather than literally, dared to remove him from the world of Medieval myth and place him in our own, and, above all, dared to demand that his performers be equal parts actor and singer. His work is gritty, moving, often beautiful, always shattering. Requiescat in pace, Sir.
The ever-eloquent Alex Ross has more.
Winterstürme, Die Walküre
Final scene, Götterdämmerung
Liebestod, Tristan und Isolde