Patrice Chereau, 68, renowned for daring stage and screen productions


French director Patrice Chereau poses during the promotion for the film "Gabrielle" in Madrid in 2006. (Pedro Armestre /AFP/Getty Images)
October 8, 2013

Patrice Chereau, a French actor and director in film, theater and opera who was renowned for daring productions, died Oct. 7 in Paris. He was 68.

The cause was complications from cancer, said the Artmedia talent agency, which represented him.

Impassioned by the performing arts at a young age, Mr. Chereau showed breadth as a director — from his revolutionary production of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle at the 1976 Bayreuth Festival to his blood-soaked 16th-century period piece and biopic “Queen Margot,” a 1994 film starring French icon Isabelle Adjani that won the Jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

The Ring cycle production featured Pierre Boulez conducting. It moved the action to the 19th century and added a hydroelectric dam, class struggle and hookerish Rhine maidens. It was a polarizing production. Writing in the New York Times, music critic Harold C. Schonberg noted “there were screams of rage and screams of applause.”

Mr. Chereau and Boulez reprised their production at Bayreuth over the next few years, and it was shown on public television in the United States. By the early 1980s, the audacious staging had become seen as a landmark of theatrical invention. The opera scholar Peter G. Davis wrote in New York magazine that “Chereau’s brilliant conception will likely remain unparalleled for excitement and dramatic revelations.”

Mr. Chereau, who headed the Cannes jury in 2003, chalked up directing credits on dozens of plays and operas, plus 10 films. His 2001 film “Intimacy,” a love story starring Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox, won the prestigious Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Daniel Barenboim, who teamed with Mr. Chereau to stage “Tristan und Isolde” at La Scala in Milan in 2007, said the French director “breathed new life” into the Wagner opera. Mr. Chereau’s sparse choreography amid industrial sets of slate walls gave the tragic love story a realistic background devoid of overt symbolism.

Mr. Chereau made his U.S. debut at the Metropolitan Opera four years ago with Leos Janacek’s final opera, “From the House of the Dead,” based on a 19th-century novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Mr. Chereau’s production of “Elektra” has been scheduled for the 2015-16 season at the Met.

Patrice Chereau was born Nov. 2, 1944, in Lezigne, France, and raised in Paris. His father was a painter, and his mother made fabric designs. He described growing up in a studio rich with art and culture.

“I never fought with my parents, which isolates me to some extent from people who have,” he told Le Monde. “My parents told stories through painting, and what I do is basically the same.”

He began staging theater productions while attending the University of Paris and early on was drawn to taking older melodramas and resetting them in different epochs, often as a social commentary. One 1969 production of “Don Juan,” based on a Moliere play, remade the Spanish lover as a left-wing intellectual in 17th-century France.

As a director, he was drawn to melodramas with strong erotic currents, including “Flesh of the Orchid” (1975), starring Charlotte Rampling, and “The Wounded Man” (1983), starring Jean-Hugues Anglade.

Survivors include a brother, Artmedia said.

— From staff and wire reports

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