Obituary: Richard Fontana

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The Independent Online
Richard Fontana, actor, born 1952, died Paris 26 June 1992.

FOLLOWING a centuries-old tradition, the Comedie-Francaise was 'dark' on Monday night, in mourning for one of their greatest actors, the Societaire Richard Fontana, who died last Friday in Paris, after a long illness, at the age of 40. The scheduled play, Lermontov's Bal Masque, was cancelled. He had rehearsed the part of Kazarin all spring, but had been able to appear in it only twice.

He began his acting studies under Antoine Vitez, from 1973 to 1976, and this teacher was to become his favourite producer, giving him leading roles in Racine and Moliere until he was engaged by the Comedie-Francaise in 1979.

He was an athletic, passionate Hamlet at the Theatre de Chaillot in 1983, in Vitez's five-hour-long production. In this performance Fontana reminded one of Olivier at the height of his powers. In 1981, he won the Prix Gerard Philipe de la Ville de Paris, and in 1983 he was elevated to the position of Societaire at the Comedie Francaise, where he was brilliant in both tragic and comic roles. One remembers him as an entrancingly nimble Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream and a noble Polyeucte in Corneille.

His whole life was the theatre, and he worked with many famous directors like Jorge Lavelli and Klaus Gruber. He also appeared in contemporary plays, most notably in Bernard-Marie Koltes' La nuit juste avant les forets at the Petit-Odeon. At the Theatre de la Colline, under the direction of Jorge Lavelli, he created the part of Oedipus in the first French production of Steven Berkoff's remarkable drama Greek. This was recently revived in Paris with great success, but Fontana was unable to join the old cast.

Fontana was an intensely 'physical' actor, athletic and dynamic in everything he undertook. He left behind him memories of a beautiful voice and a chameleon personality that could encompass the most tragic and the most comic parts with an easy elegance - from Titus to Figaro. The House of Moliere has lost one of its greatest stars.