Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jonathan Miller vs Stephen Sacker Hard Talk

BBC World's HARDtalk is a daunting challenge to even the most hardened interviewee. Jonathan Miller faced up to the current incumbent Stephen Sachur safe in the knowledge that they both went to Cambridge. I am not sure Miller felt quite so confident at the end of the encounter as it was refreshingly frank. Stephen Sackur did what he usually does so well and fronted up with some searching questions.

Miller is a renowned media personality, comedian, Establishment Opera and theatre director and celebrated science TV presenter. He has been given all that life has to offer by society and yet Miller is not a happy man and this came over today in waves.

Miller it appears is very sensitive to criticism. Being a performing artist is not the best place to have a thin skin but I can attest that I have suffered at the hands of various critics and it is not nice. He feels that only those who have achieved what he has achieved is allowed to have an opinion about him and as most of the London critics have not produced as much as a CD let alone an opera they should shut up. So what about me?

Well I have directed Schoenberg's Erwartung! and if that is not enough I sang Flora at Aldeburgh for Britten in his Turn of the Screw. 

The interview was very enlightening. It seems Miller fell into his artistic career by accident. He pointed out he really doesn't like the theatre, he never goes to the theatre, and would much rather have stayed in medicine and that I think is the trouble with his work. Miller's dislike of  arts production shows  through. Yes Miller can do it all extremely well, he thinks about it and talks extremely well on the subject but he doesn't love it. For the artist to succeed you have to love it, you have to have passion and want to do it even when all sorts of obstacles are it the way. Miller will tolerate rehearsals but he goes home at 4.30 pm. His productions are clever, academic but lack passion. Peter Brooke is a director of passion and his productions wreak of it, that is why he will be remembered.

Miller is torn between his major love which is medicine which he feels he should have followed and the arts which fell into his lap. Maybe he feels like a dutiful son that he has let his parents down by slumming in the arts.

Miller's ambition seems to amount to getting actors to act. Today this is a rather old fashioned concept as the film and TV media really demand type casting. Britten knew this and when allowed to cast his operas he type cast. Peter Pears was not amused on occasions. However I do agree with Miller operatic star soprano's and tenors should be given the widest birth if anything ensemble is to be attempted.

It is no good saying to Miller that he was fortunate to be given the opportunities that were denied others and should be happy with his lot. Miller isn't. It happens to most of us I wanted to be a ballet dancer and Britten put a stop to that but the world he opened up for me was magic. Yes I didn't dance Swan Lake but I produced Erwartung!

We don't get what we want out of life and it can be so unfair. Miller wants to author a brilliant scientific paper that will be remembered. By accident I had one of those insights that come only once in a lifetime and have a short YouTube Video on the best of Science YouTube list which will be remembered. I would have given my eye teeth to have produced my Bluebeard's Castle at The Royal Opera House but not my luck. Miller did direct operas at major houses and was not grateful just bitter at his lost science opportunity.

Sackur did not let up, hard question after hard question till at last it ended. It was a greatly chastened Mr Miller who murmured a reluctant  thank you. I felt sorry for the man. I actually felt sorry for him. 

PS In about 1963 ITV were looking for a young woman to join Jonathan Miller on a chat show and teenagers of my age were encouraged to write a short article on any subject on the front of any paper on the 23 April. I wrote about the date! I wrote well even at 17 and was shortlisted. Of course when I turned up Mr Miller must have had  a fit. I was not the OxBridge student that was expected. In fact I think they thought that I hadn't actually written my article but I had.
I should have got Miller on to Britten and 'The Turn of the Screw' and he might have been impressed.

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