A catastrophe: Patrice Chéreau died today in Paris, of lung cancer, at the age of sixty-eight. The storied director of opera, theater, and film had been undergoing treatment for cancer while preparing his production of Strauss's Elektra in Aix-en-Provence this past summer; I am told that he continued working despite the enormous physical strain. His contribution to opera, from the epoch-making 1976 Bayreuth Ring onward, was tremendous; if there was a greater living director, the name does not spring to mind. He perfected a mode of abstracted realism in which everything was charged and nothing was forced. Even the slightest gestures and the most marginal characters contributed to the unfolding of the drama, which built toward shuddering visual epiphanies: the swinging of the pendulum in Die Walküre, and its eventual halt; Jack the Ripper's slow ascent of the stairs in Lulu, into moonlit nothingness; the sudden, terrifying deluge of trash in From the House of the Dead; most momentously, at the end of Götterdämmerung, the turning of the onstage crowd toward the audience, as if to ask, in Alain Badiou's words, "What about you? Here is where we stand now, you and we both." I attended the last night of the Elektra in Aix, which proved to be the final work of Chéreau's career. I won't soon forget either the performance itself or the intensity of the ovation that followed. When greatly gifted people die prematurely, we feel not only saddened but deprived. The future seems to contain empty lots on which nothing will be built.