Cher Public

Update on great operatic scandals of the 20th century

Noted junk sculptor Dr. Jonathan Miller is now the subject of a biography and it appears he’s mellowed in his old age. Just joking! He’s as bitter and mean as ever, and now he’s even got Nicholas Hytner doing his badmouthing by proxy: “I happened to see that [1998] Figaro which was hijacked by the most disgustingly plush, scandalously self-absorbed conducting I have ever heard [from that] fat monster in the pit, James Levine.” Brits! You can’t live with them and you can’t kill them.  

In all fairness, La Cieca thinks we should draw a curtain over the unpleasantness of the past half-century and recall Dr. Miller at the zenith of his powers:

  • armerjacquino

    Thanks for the Beyond The Fringe clip!

    Dudley Moore story: my parents met when Dad directed Mum in a university production of SUMMER AND SMOKE. They started dating but wanted to keep it quiet. Dudley Moore was also in the cast, guessed what was going on, and from then on whenever my mum came into the rehearsal room, Moore would rush to the piano and start playing ‘Ain’t She Sweet’.

    • messa di voce

      Dudley Moore in the Rita Moreno role?

    • Nerva Nelli

      Armer, was your mom playing Alma, her mum, Rosa Gonzalez, or one of the guests?

      And Dudley Moore? Roger Doremus?-- or the Traveling Salesman?


      • armerjacquino

        Mum was Mrs Bassett, Moore was Roger Doremus (Sorry for the delay, I had to check!).

        From mum: “Roger’s first line, carrying a music case, is ‘Did you hear my solo on the French Horn, Miss Alma? At least I think that’s what it was. Dudley ran the gamut from piccolo to double bass. [Alma] never knew what to expect”

        There’s a tape recording of the production which I remember listening to years back.

        • Nerva Nelli

          Fun to know your earthly existence to Glorious Hill, Mississippi!

          Have you ever seen the anodyne but not disfiguring opera that Lee Hoiby made of SUMMER AND SMOKE? One of the NYC conservatories did it a few years back.

          • armerjacquino

            I’ve never even seen the original play! Closest I’ve managed is a wonderful production of ECCENTICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE at the Gate in Dublin.

          • Nerva Nelli

            Funny, I have been wanting to see ECCENTRICITIES for years- it doesn’t get much play here in the US. Since the 3 week B’way run in 1976 (Betsy Palmer and David Selby- popular commercial properties of their day!!! Where are they now?)I am not sure ts had a major NYC production since. Similar deal with Inge’s SUMMER BRAVE in re PICNIC.

            I *did* see the 1996 B’way revival of SUMMER AND SMOKE (Mary Steenbergen, Harry Hamlin, the fabulous Amercan actress Celia Weston in your mu’s old part, and Jesse Eisenberg (!) understudying Young John.

            Just sorted through and made myself recycle several boxes of programs, and was astounded how many Williams productions I have seen. Bragging rights: Maxwell Caulfield and Maria Tucci in SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH at the Williamstown Festival! Elizabeth Ashley in THE RED DEVIL BATTERY SIGN at the WPA Theatre!

          • lenski822

            The 1996 SUMMER AND SMOKE revival starred Mary McDonnell, not Mary Steenburgen. She was very good, as was Hamlin.

            In 2007, there was a dynamite revival of the play at Paper Mill Playhouse in NJ featuring Amanda Plummer and Kevin Anderson. Plummer was really on as Alma, and I was half-expecting one of the non-profits to pick up the production and bring it to New York.

            In 2008, The Actors Company (TACT) produced a small revival of ECCENTRICITIES that was wonderful. Charles Isherwood remembered it on his end-of-the-year best list in the Times. I had a friend in the cast and got to see it several times; it’s the best production of either iteration of the work I’ve ever seen.

  • Orlando Furioso

    Good lord — if you can’t get the quote you want from the relevant source, get a comparably nasty quote on the topic from someone else — anybody else, doesn’t matter who?

    So thanks for the video, to remind us that J.M. once did actually have something to offer the performing arts. And most especially to allow me to rehear (and maybe to let some hear for the first time?) that immortal Dudley Moore bit. I suppose his audience was mostly laughing because he sounded “funny,” but that is the most miraculously dead-on Peter Pears ever (and I say this as a huge admirer of Pears): the slow quaver in the middle, the swallowed consonants (especially F), the disguising of tricky jumps with an artful slide… it’s all there in beautiful precision.

    • messa di voce

      The best musical parodies ever.

      • la vociaccia

        Everything he touches is gold- the Beethoven sonata parody, Erlkonig, just genius. The sonata should be played in conservatories to demonstrate sonata-allegro form.

    • ianw2

      It’s interesting to ponder whether in 2012 SNL would ever even consider mimicking Renee’s scoops, DdN coquettishness or Gunn’s constant shirtless-ness.

    • jatm2063

      Flawless impersonation of both Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten, all in one! Loved that.

    • Orlando it was a different time and there’s a good chance that if it is a British audience that many did know exactly who he was taking the mickey out of.

      • Orlando Furioso

        willym, I hear what you’re saying, but I think that’s rather romanticizing the past. (So, I’m afraid, is the idea that some equivalent of SNL back then would have shown this — this is from a taping of the whole revue for possible telecast, and in fact it never aired, and was forgotten for decades.)

        I was around then myself, and even in London, theatre audiences weren’t a festival of culturally literate people who got every Brittenish reference. Some did, certainly; but as with any specialized musical parody for a general audience it also worked on the “he’s making fun of high-falutin singers” level for those who didn’t follow the particulars.

        As for me, when I first heard this (on the second Beyond the Fringe LP), I just about fell off the chair, I was laughing so hard.

    • Often admonished

      When they heard it Britten was totally appalled but Pears was delighted. He understood that it had implanted his Brand in the national consciousness.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Pardon…. but Dudley Moor was the real genius, and yes Miller should have refrained from directing real operas.

  • Dawn Fatale

    Well this explains why the Nicholas Hytner production of Falstaff at the Met didn’t happen and they refurbished the Zeffirelli dioramas instead.

  • bluecabochon

    I just read on Facebook that Angela is sick with flu and will be out of Tosca this evening.

    • peter

      It’s purely coincidental, I’m sure, that today is also Romanian Independence Day.

      • louannd


      • jatm2063

        Is there really such a thing as “Romanian Independence Day?”

        • armerjacquino

          Yes, there is- why the surprise?

          It’s in May though. Dec 1 is Unification day and is a national holiday.

        • oedipe

          After the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe, some “national days” went the way of the dodo, whereas others -often old celebratory dates that had been banned from the collective psyche during communism- made their way back into the calendar. Romania is no exception in this respect.

          May 9: Romanian Independence Day. (Celebrates the moment in history when, in 1877, Romania stopped paying “tribute” -a fee for being left alone- to the Ottoman Empire.)

          Dec. 1: Romanian Reunification Day. (Celebrates the reunification, in 1918, of all the territories/provinces in which the majority of the population spoke Romanian. Today’s Republic of Moldova was included in this union.)

    • Camille

      Oh thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this. It was THIS performance I was considering going to but decided ‘NAH, it’s the last one and she will cancel’, ao now I feel so relieved!

      Anyone is the Bay Area should go to Baritenor’s group WAFFLE OPERA’s production of Isouard’s Cendrillon. A true rarity.

      • Camille

        Ao = so

        Is = in

        Tiny keyboard, bad eyes


      • papopera

        A true rarity and a true exhumation indeed.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Poor Angela it’s horrible to have the flu. Is the understudy going on for her?

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        Unless she receives hotel and per diem, or stays with friends, with of these cancellations, she’s spending more on her accommodations than she’s making.

        • MontyNostry

          But she can no doubt pick up a nice juicy fee from an oligarch somewhere for a private concert. Isn’t that the way top singers make big money these days?

          • MontyNostry

            I was just thinking, maybe Ange’s thinking on Toscas is like Domingo’s on top notes. Didn’t he always believe that there was a limited number of B’s and C’s (if he ever had them) available to him?

          • I understand that was Bjorling who held that belief.

  • Signor Bruschino

    In the words of Patsy Stone “Oh just die already”

  • LittleMasterMiles

    At the risk of bucking Received Opinion, I’ve never understood why people dislike Miller’s work so much, since I’ve usually enjoyed it. His Taming of the Shrew with John Cleese for the BBC was terrific (and refreshingly non-misogynistic), and I thought his Mikado (which I first saw in Houston) was hilarious—for which Eric Idle does NOT deserve all the credit. His Pelleas at the Met is just gorgeous, and if his Figaro did result in his getting sacked (over a musical issue on which, as I understand the facts, Miller was in the wrong), both productions convey readings of the operas that are highly specific without being either shopworn or implausible. I’m also a huge fan of his St. Matthew Passion, which I’ve seen twice at BAM; it comes through with a spontaneity and sincerity that are truly moving.

    I’m not bothered by some uncivil comments made (by proxy, as quoted here) behind the scenes (are we really against strongly-held opinions around here?), or interviews in which he comes off as a bit of a prat (I’ve heard a couple). If we’re going to get personal, we might weigh those flaws against his advocacy for gay rights and religious nonconformism. But in any case, I’m interested here in what he puts on stage.

    Seriously, could someone give me the reasoned argument against the quality of Miller’s work?

    • armerjacquino

      He’s a grumpy and rather pompous, self-satisfied man, which I think is where most people’s antipathy comes from. Like you, I love the MIKADO, and his RIGOLETTO, too, although I’ve seen other productions (a dull DON GIOVANNI, the tedious ROH Armani COSI) which I liked less.

      As I understand it, the row over NOZZE was because Bartoli wanted to sing ‘Al desio’ instead of ‘Deh Vieni’. I’d have fought that battle, too. ‘Al desio’ is all wrong for that simple, moonlit moment.

      • LittleMasterMiles

        Yes, the FIGARO incident was over Bartoli’s wish to sing one (or both?) of the substitute arias Mozart provided for Susanna in 1789-90. I said Miller was in the wrong on that NOT because I think the original arias are more authoritative or even necessarily better: we (most of us) get plenty of chances to hear FIGARO in our lives and I can welcome hearing alternatives of a kind that were central to the tradition in which Mozart and singers of the day worked. However, that was a musical decision in which Bartoli and Levine, while listening to Miller’s opinions as the stage director, should have had the final say-so. I don’t know exactly how the squabble escalated to Miller’s firing, but it takes nothing from the quality of the rest of his work on that production.

        Incidentally, Levine isn’t the only target of Miller’s [sic, recte Nicholas Hytner’s] barbs, and he [Miller for real this time] takes as much as he gives:

        • Gualtier M

          Bartoli wanted to sing the alternate Susanna arias that were composed for a Vienna revival for Adriana Ferrarese del Bene who was a more bravura singer than Nancy Storace. However, Bartoli in some shows sang the original “Venite inginocchiatevi” and “Deh Vieni non Tardi” and in other shows sang the alternate arias. In the performance I saw she sang the Storace arias but I believe that in the telecast she did the Ferrarese del Bene arias. Or is it vice versa? (Why wasn’t that telecast commercially released? Isn’t it also missing from Met Opera on Demand as well?)

          I find “Un moto di gioia” very charming but I think it might work better as an extra aria for Cherubino. A Von Stade, Berganza or Garanca would justify the interpolation. Anyway, Miller balked at staging the scenes twice for two different musical settings.

          I also prefer the original arias but Mozart did compose those alternate arias for that character in those scenes. I agree with Little Master Miles that it is educational to hear them in the context of the complete opera.

          What is interesting is that Hytner has been at the Met very recently with the importation of his “Don Carlo” production which is being revived this season. Does Hytner really think that Levine is now such a non-entity at the Met that he can publicly trash him so harshly (and without any specific particulars?) and continue to work at the Met?

          • Interesting that she sang both the original and alternate arias during that run. In the telecast, she sang the alternate. I remember her prancing about Terfel while singing flashy coloratura.

            I, too, am puzzled that the production wasn’t released. The cast was really on from what I recall. Fleming’s “Dove sono” was really first-rate.