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Patrice Chéreau's Legendary Ring

It began with a scandal, became the object of heated discussions, turned into a sensational success and finally blossomed into a legendary, standard-setting production: Patrice Chéreau's epoch-making Ring cycle in Bayreuth, the "Centennial Ring".
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When the production was premiered in 1976, there were brawls in the venerable Festspielhaus, with the audience divided into one mob roaring in favour and one screaming against. In his "Bayreuth, A History of the Wagner Festival", Frederic Spotts relates what happened: "On opening night there were bloody brawls, Wolfgang Wagner's new wife had her dress ripped and another woman had her earring torn off - and the earlobe with it. There were death threats and bomb threats; friendships and marriages were said to have been broken."

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The main reason for the protests was Chéreau, who set the work in the time in which it was written and focused on the all-too-human passions that motivate gods and men alike. The grimy industrial era with its robber barons and suffering masses supplied the ideological underpinnings of Chéreau's concept.

Patrice Chéreau not only wrote a major new chapter in Wagner interpretation with his Ring, but also carried out a revolution that affected all of musical theatre. The Chéreau Ring set the standards by which every subsequent production was to be measured.

Wolfgang Wagner's choice of Pierre Boulez as the musical director of the new Ring production was greeted by many with disbelief. Hadn't Boulez once suggested blowing up the world's opera houses? Opposition began to mount when Boulez suggested Patrice Chéreau as director. How could a musically inexperienced young film and theatre director do justice to the intricacies of Wagner's dramas? No one, however, could have imagined the outrage that was to greet the production during the summer of 1976.
Richard Wagner Opera
Richard Wagner Opera
Whereas in 1976 the New York Times had dismissed Chéreau as "a director going amok" and his production as having "very little to do with the Ring cycle", in 1983, on the occasion of the first telecast of the cycle on PBS, its critic wrote: "Productions of Wagner will never again be quite the same as we had come to expect...". Newsweek raved: "Chéreau's vision, which has been adapted to TV's small screen with remarkable skill by television director Brian Large, is a theatrical triumph. This Ring is the perfect example of how television, when used imaginatively, can bring even the biggest of operas to life."