A natural-born artist with a clear calling, Patrice Chéreau is one of those rare examples of a person who manages to succeed in all the expressive arts. Witness, for example, the naturalness with which at the age of 19 in 1964 he produced a never-before-staged text by Victor Hugo that was widely applauded by critics; three years later, he was invited to direct a public theatre in a suburb of Paris. Following that, the success of the opera he directed at the Two Worlds Festival in Spoleto opened the path for him to the Piccolo Teatro, where he substituted for Strehler for the customary three years. Then he returned to France, where he established himself in another model institution - the Théâtre de Villeurbanne – alongside Roger Planchon, debuting with a sensational version of Marlowe’s The Massacre of Paris, actually performed in water by an impressive cast.
Patrice Chéreau is an actor himself with the indispensable support of a team of creative collaborators, including the great set designer Richard Peduzzi, costume designer Jacques Schmidt and lighting designer André Diot. Drawn through his analysis of Brecht towards a correct naturalism, Chéreau has discovered and revived a number of little known texts, not least thanks to the many languages he has mastered. His extraordinary critical interpretation of Marivaux broke through the playwright’s sunny surface to reveal him as a forward-looking, harsh social critic. The extremely topical production of Marivaux’s almost forgotten La dispute, produced by Chéreau a number of times after its debut in the 1973 Festival d’Automne, caused a huge stir in the theatre world.
Meanwhile, Chéreau shifted from theatre to opera, beginning with Berg’s Lulu based on Wedekind’s play, followed by a scandalous reinterpretation of Wagner’s Ring at Bayreuth, while he began making films as well. He reached the height of his career during his many years at the Théâtre des Amandiers in Nanterre, where he developed a new model of expression, discovered and launched one of the great dramatists of our time, Bernard Marie Koltès, whose major works he directed, including Combat de nègre et de chiens and Solitude des champs de coton, as well as Shakespeare, Peer Gynt, Heiner Müller, and the historic revival of Les paravents by Genet. Chéreau eventually turned to cinema, which he found more expressive of the truth of life that he so values. He never abandoned theatre, however, as testified by the legendary Phèdre. He has also remained committed to opera, directing a number of Mozart operas and finally Tristan und Isolde at La Scala this year. Perhaps inspired by his recognition of the changing role of the director in recent years, he inaugurated a series of dramatic readings that began with Dostoevsky and included Le Mausolée de la Mort by Hervé Guibert, once again proving himself to be on the cutting edge of theatre-making today.