British Theatre and Opera Director Jonathan Miller Dies at 85

Obituaries   British Theatre and Opera Director Jonathan Miller Dies at 85
The Olivier Award winner and Tony recipient also performed, produced, emceed, and practiced medicine.
Jonathan Miller_obit_graphic_HR.jpg

Jonathan Miller, a director whose work on opera and theatre stages was only one facet of his myriad talents, died November 27 after living with Alzheimer's disease. He was 85.

His career in the arts catapulted with the comedy troupe Beyond the Fringe, which saw success in London's West End and on Broadway. Mr. Miller, along with collaborators Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, and Dudley Moore, satirized prominent government and Parliament figures, often sparking controversy among targets and audiences. Such an instance involving Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was recently depicted on Netflix's The Crown.

Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett, Dudley Moore, and Peter Cook
Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett, Dudley Moore, and Peter Cook Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library

After returning to London following Beyond the Fringe's Broadway success, Mr. Miller gravitated toward directing, first with BBC as presenter of the arts series Monitor. He took to stage directing in 1962, beginning with Under Plain Cover at London's Royal Court. A string of London and Off-Broadway credits followed before he was appointed associate director at the National Theatre.

Mr. Miller's résumé consists largely of classic titles—from the heft of Shakespeare's folio to Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest—though his style was not always traditional, using the texts to bring forth more contemporary understandings of their historical context. He did this on the opera stage as well, including a New York mafia-esque Rigoletto (decades before Tony winner Michael Mayer highlighted similar themes in the opera with a Vegas-set staging) and a Mussolini-inspired Tosca.

He worked particularly frequently with English National Opera, staging 15 operas with the company from The Marriage of Figaro in 1978 to The Elixir of Love in 2010.

Among his theatre accolades are a 1976 Olivier Award for Three Sisters (he was again nominated in 1996, this time for an opera—Carmen) and a Special Tony Award in 1963 as a member of Beyond the Fringe. He earned a Tony nomination in 1986 for helming a revival of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night. He was knighted in 2002.

Outside of the performing arts realm, Mr. Miller was a man of science, studying medicine at Cambridge University and frequently returning to his roots in neurology throughout his artistic pursuits.

Mr. Miller is survived by his wife, Rachel Collett, sons William and Tom, and daughter Kate.

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