Sunday, October 08, 2006

Marvin K. Miller, Will You Please Go NOW!

Jonathan Miller has been all over the daily papers of late, pissing and moaning and making harrumphing noises about quitting the opera game, for real this time.

Works for me. I hope he doesn't let the scenery hit him on the way out.

Milleriana has actually been a blessedly tiny part of my operagoing life; he's never directed in San Francisco, and I haven't sought his work out elsewhere very much. But the things I have seen — including a tone-deaf Figaro at the Met and the chillingly stupid Mikado for ENO that was broadcast on "Great Performances" — have been pretty uniformly crap. Others I haven't had to witness to know they were no good, like the two-act Rake's Progress he directed at the Met a few years back; a director who hasn't even studied this elaborately structured piece enough to understand the three-act ground plan has no business touching it.

I'm willing to stipulate to the splendor of the famous old Mafia Rigoletto (which I do wish I'd witnessed) and the St. Matthew Passion staging, and of course the greatness of Beyond the Fringe is unquestionable. But what if we could at least do without the pompous, self-infatuated oratory? Like, e.g., this tawdry bag of bilge (available to subscribers only. Short version: "Contemporary opera is up the junction because no one in the world is remotely as smart as I am.")

By now you've begun to suspect a personal angle behind my animus, and although everything I've said is on the merits, you're not wrong either. I've had the misfortune of crossing paths with the good doctor.

This was in 1993, when the San Francisco Opera mounted its first mainstage production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, and a discussion panel was organized by the UC Berkeley music department. The participants were Miller, the SF Opera's erudite Kip Cranna, Prof. Daniel Heartz — who by that time had forgotten more about 18th-century opera than anyone in the room had ever known — and your humble &c., who if nothing else had at least been to the opening performance.

Within 30 seconds, two things became clear to all. One was that one of the panelists, by his own cheerful admission, had never heard a note of the opera we were ostensibly there to discuss; the other was that he would nonetheless take it as an affront to his personal eminence if anyone else were allowed to get a word in. For 90 minutes, Miller filibustered that discussion like a West Virginia congressman. I have never seen a man go longer without a breath who wasn't busy drowning.

I don't deny that some of the things he said were interesting. But none of it was interesting enough to justify his behavior, and about the time he started slagging off Peter Sellars I'd heard enough. You have to be an artist of Wagnerian genius to carry off a Wagnerian ego, and Miller can aspire at best to Cilea-hood. He won't be missed.


At 10/09/2006 1:18 PM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

After rolling on the floor - I blogged about Mr. Windbag a couple of years back - I linked to Daniel Wakin's story and this posting.

At 10/10/2006 12:11 PM, Blogger Henry Holland said...

Uh oh, now you're going to get all the Adriana Lecouvreur fans riled up. :-)

I have never seen a man go longer without a breath who wasn't busy drowning


At 10/11/2006 8:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best part of all is that the man finally staged that opera, in Zurich IIRC, and was sensitive enough to its special (and wonderful) characteristics to take the step of replacing the secco recitatives -- yes, admittedly they were set by Sussmayr -- with spoken dialogue. Somehow, the premiere audience seems to have discovered this when the curtain went up, not from some pre-opening publicity. They were understandably NOT amused....

At 10/14/2006 8:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Miller also famously stormed out of a BBC TV interview when his religious (by which I mean, "anti-religious") views were questioned. Funny that a man who sees himself as such a figure of the Enlightenment in a benighted age can't take criticism nor engage in genuine debate.


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