Death of a legendary director

Death of a legendary director


norman lebrecht

October 07, 2013

We’re much distressed tonight by news of the death of Patrice Chéreau, director of the centennial 1976 Ring at Bayreuth, of several outstanding films and of a niche French theatre.

He was 68; the cause was lung cancer.


patrice chereau lebrecht

When we met three years ago for a BBC Lebrecht Interview, Patrice could not have been more helpful or forthcoming. His apartment in the Marais district of Paris was spartan in decor and Patrice gave the impression of a man who liked to live without extravagance. His loyalties were to Paris, to French theatre and to old friends.

His Wagner venture, instigated by Pierre Boulez, had been an aberration in a career in spoken theatre. He had enjoyed the operas but saw no reason ever to direct anything else at Bayreuth. He talked to me of his astonishment at the old Nazis he met, one of them in his cast.

He was gay and out all his adult life, though never extrovertly . His charm was discreet and memorable. We met him again the following year when he came to direct a morose Norwegian play at the Young Vic, belatedly his British debut. Much of the play was set in a puddle on a concrete floor. Patrice looked glum. Later, we heard he was ill.

Tonight we shall watch La Reine Margot, his greatest film.

You can listen to the Lebrecht Interview with Patrice here.



  • David Boxwell says:

    Greatest film: Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train.

    Greatest opera production (aside from the Ring): From the House of the Dead.

    A titan.

    • MWnyc says:

      That From the House of the Dead was magnificent, and we’re very lucky that Peter Gelb brought it to the Met.

  • The more I reflect on this news the more and more tragic it feels. Far too young for such an iconic man to die. A really great loss for all of us.

  • RIP. Your centenary Ring was original and innovative and Der Meister was nothing if not that. Plus, it had roots in the underlying philosophy of the work and it’s creator. As for the stagings of today, stendo un velo pietoso, che e’ meglio…

  • Andrew Sinclair says:

    A terrible loss. His Bayreuth RING was inspirational.

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    “He talked to me of his astonishment at the old Nazis he met, one of them in his cast.”

    I am astonished he was astonished. In 1976, his own country was still full of old Vichy dudes and other collaborators, and hard right wing conservatives, many of them still in high government positions. Which explains why they went on to fight brutal colonial wars in Vietnam (“Indochine”) and Algeria after having been liberated at great human cost themselves. So he should have been well prepared for meeting that sort of people.

    I saw La Reine Margot when it came out and really liked the movie, but I had forgotten he was the director. I will re-watch that and check out some of his other movies, too.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Quite, if you don’t expect to find superannuated Nazis in Bayreuth where do you expect to find them?

  • valerie watts says:

    Wonderful Bayreuth production and true about left-over Nazis………

    Lovely photo of you both. RIP

  • Gonout Backson says:

    Don’t forget Lulu.

  • Simon says:

    Sad news.

    Concerning the interview: I get “Sorry, this episode is not currently available on BBC iPlayer Radio” – is there any way of getting access to this interview? And did he name the old nazi in his cast?

    Having said this, the consensus that seems achieved today on the quality and significance of his Ring is somewhat astonishing considering the reactions it got when it came out. Maybe some things which are doomed today will also be judged in a different way within 40 years.

    • It’s available here. Click on Patrice Chereau segment.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Chéreau’s Ring didn’t have to wait 40 years. It has been very favorably treated by many critics right away, and even the Bayreuth public changed its mind very quickly. Probably because he actually told the story written by Wagner, changing only the imagery, instead of writing its own story (or giving up storytelling altogether, and any kind of coherence, as the likes of Mr Castorf do), and then playing it out to someone else’s music.

      BTW, the favorite argument of artistic quacks and Hochstaplers is “Mozart died in poverty, and I have been booed yesterday.”

      • Simon says:

        Favourable treatment by critics has never been an argument for the “Regietheater is evil” folks, neither 1976 nor nowadays.

        And no, I’m neither saying that Regietheater is always good nor that unfavourable public reaction is a proof for quality.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          “Favourable treatment by critics has never been an argument for the “Regietheater is evil” folks, neither 1976 nor nowadays.”

          First and foremost, I never pretended it was. In 1976 “Regietheater”, even if it was mentioned by some (was it?), most certainly wasn’t a household term, as it became today.

          Then, Chéreau’s Ring is not and never has been “Regietheater”, for the reasons I tried to expose.

          Then again, Regietheater isn’t “evil”, it’s obnoxious, self-centered, vainglorious nonsense, even in it’s most accomplished installments. No one burns the Louvre here. Mozart and Wagner will survive this stampede, get up, brush the dust off and be fresh as new. The only serious question being – what we’ll see after the stampede, what the “landscape after the battle” will be. It might not be a beautiful sight and there could be a lot of cleaning up to do. Just watch Red River.

      • Just about sums up the true value of Boulez-Cheraux Ring and explains why it could not be lumped together with the trash we see today on stage. Thank you.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    I thought that he had worked for WNo under Brian McMaster’s regime?

  • Michael says:

    I was very lucky to attend the premieres of both the Bayreuth Ring and the Paris Lulu in Chéreau’s productions. I was at the Ring’s first performance and got tickets to see it in each of the next four years (tickets for Bayreuth were only just becoming like gold dust!). None of the many Rings before or since have remained so imprinted on my mind on musical, dramatic and theatrical levels.

    I was working in Paris in the late 70s and on the afternoon of the Lulu premiere I called into the Opéra box office on the off-chance that they might be releasing tickets reserved by foreigners who had missed the collection deadline 3 hours before curtain-up. That was then the only mechanism for obtaining tickets from abroad! I was told to come back at the deadline and was rewarded with two prime orchestra stalls tickets. I had never seen or heard any part of Lulu and was quite simply overwhelmed.

    Here is an anecdote which showed Chéreau’s talent and commitment. At one of the Siegfried performances, Manfred Jung was indisposed (no great loss from a vocal or dramatic point of view): while the replacement singer sang from the wings, Chéreau himself went on stage and acted out the role! I can’t remember all the details – it was not the cycle I attended that year – but I think this was just Act II. Presumably the replacement was able to get into costume and get some last-minute help from Chéreau before the start of Act III.

  • Yes Addison says:

    If the Nazi in the Ring cast is the one of whom I’m thinking, all that’s astonishing is that he was by no means “old”; he had been a child in Hitler’s time. This is the one said to have the offensively decorated swimming pool? It has come up here before, but I take my cue from Mr. Lebrecht’s discretion.

    In any case, RIP to the great director, who did so much great work in opera beyond the Ring: House of the Dead, Tristan, Wozzeck with an extraordinary young Waltraud Meier.

  • What everyone here has said. I was fortunate to meet and see Chéreau at work as an actor/director in Salzburg in his production of the Koltès two-man “In the Solitude of Cotton Fields” (with Pascal Greggory) in 1995 or ’96. A force, a presence, and with no pretension. An irreplaceable man and artist.