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Miller began directing operas in the 1970s and is one of the world's leading opera directors with several classic productions to his credit. His best-known production is probably his 1982 "Mafia"-styled Rigoletto set in 1950s Little Italy, Manhattan. In its early days he was an associate director at the National Theatre and later ran the Old Vic Theatre. As a writer/presenter of more than a dozen BBC documentaries, he has become a well-known television personality and familiar public intellectual in both Britain and the United States.
Miller grew up in St John's Wood, London, in a well-connected Jewish family of Lithuanian descent. His father Emanuel (1892-1970), who suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis, was a military psychiatrist, and subsequently a paediatric psychiatrist in Harley House. His mother Betty Miller (née Spiro) was a novelist and biographer. Miller's sister Sarah (died 2006) worked in television for many years and retained an involvement with Judaism that he, an atheist, has always eschewed.
Miller (far right) in Beyond the Fringe on Broadway
Miller helped to write and produce the musical revueBeyond the Fringe, which premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in August 1960. This launched, in addition to his own, the careers of Alan Bennett, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Miller quit the show shortly after its move from London to Broadway in 1962, and took over as editor and presenter of the BBC's flagship arts programme Monitor in 1965. All these appointments were unsolicited invitations, the Monitor appointment arose because Miller had approached Huw Wheldon about taking up a place on the BBC's director training course. Wheldon assured him that he would "pick it up as he went along".
In 1990, Miller wrote and presented a joint BBC/Canadian production entitled, Born Talking: A Personal Inquiry into Language. The four-part series looked into the acquisition of language, and complexities surrounding language production, with special focus on sign language used by deaf people. This interest was contemporaneous with his friend Oliver Sacks' immersion in, and writing/publishing a book about Deaf Culture and deaf people entitled Seeing Voices. Miller then wrote and presented the television series Madness (1991) and Jonathan Miller on Reflection (1998). The five-part Madness series ran on PBS in 1991. It featured a brief history of madness and interviews with psychiatric researchers, clinical psychiatrists, and patients in therapy sessions. In 1992, Opera Omaha staged the US premiere of the Gioachino Rossini's 1819 opera Ermione, directed by Miller.
In 2007, Miller directed The Cherry Orchard at The Crucible, Sheffield, his first work on the British stage for ten years. He also directed Monteverdi'sL'Orfeo in Manchester and Bristol, and Der Rosenkavalier in Tokyo and gave talks throughout Britain during 2007 called An Audience with Jonathan Miller in which he spoke about his life for an hour and then fielded questions from the audience. He also curated an exhibition on camouflage at the Imperial War Museum. He has appeared at the Royal Society of the Arts in London discussing humour (4 July 2007) and at the British Library on religion (3 September 2007).
In January 2009, after a break of twelve years, Miller returned to the English National Opera to direct his own production of La Bohème, notable for its 1930s setting. This same production ran at the Cincinnati Opera in July 2010, also directed by Miller.
On 15 September 2010 Miller, along with 54 other public figures, signed an open letter published in The Guardian, stating their opposition to Pope Benedict XVI's state visit to the UK. In April and May 2011, Miller directed Verdi's La Traviata in Vancouver, Canada, and in February and March 2012, Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in Washington, DC.
On 25 November 2015 the University of London awarded Miller an honorary degree in Literature.
Miller married Rachel Collet in 1956. They have two sons and a daughter. He lives in Camden, north London. His eldest son, Tom Miller, is a photographer and his second child, William Miller, is both an author and a TV executive and his youngest child, Kate Miller works in TV as well. He has four grandchildren..
Parodies and representations
Stevie Smith included a thinly-disguised and uncomplimentary version of Miller, aged nine, in her short story 'Beside the Seaside: A Holiday with Children' (1949).
Private Eye (which had a falling-out with Miller) occasionally lampooned him under the name 'Dr Jonathan', depicting him as a Dr Johnson-like self-important man of learning.
In the BBC Radio Four series The Burkiss Way edition 35, broadcast 2nd April 1979, he was impersonated by Nigel Rees in a fairly lengthy parody "The Blood Gushing All over the Screen in Question", in which the history of nasty diseases was traced and the style of Miller's presentation was sent up. It was written by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick.
Honours and awards
Special Tony Award (1963), with co-stars Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, "for their brilliance which has shattered all the old concepts of comedy" in the musical revue Beyond the Fringe.
Miller, Jonathan; Alan Bennett; Peter Cook; Dudley Moore (1987). The Complete Beyond the Fringe. Methuen. ISBN0-413-14670-7.
Sokol, B.J. (ed.) (1993). The undiscover'd country: New Essays on Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare. Free Association Books. ISBN1-85343-197-4.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link) - Jonathan Miller: 'King Lear in Rehearsal: A Talk' and seven other essays
BBC. Great Composers of the World. Miller appears on the Puccini and Bach DVDs of this BBC series. In the Bach episode, he discusses his affection for the famous "Erbarme Dich" aria of the St Matthew Passion.
PBS. Vermeer: Master of Light. Miller appears in this one-hour program on the painter.