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The fuss over trousers in La Traviata
Jonathan Miller Theatre director
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I know what happens when you start getting these things right, you get attacked for certain things which, in fact, you get... I'll show you, I'll give you a perfect example. I've done several productions... and I’m about to do one again for the third, fourth time, of La Traviata. Now, I would never dream of changing the period of [La] Traviata because Verdi had the common sense to set it in the year that he was writing.  It takes place in Paris in 1850. Madness to change it. I only change things like Rigoletto because he set it in something 300 years before about which he knew fuck all. So I have, in my various productions, invariably dressed her in something for which I am consistently attacked by these critics... wearing these trousers.

And then these fuckers have the impudence to tell me that I just do it in order to be different, to be trendy, and they’ve dressed her in ski pants... and I’ve updated her. I haven’t updated her at all. I’ve set her exactly as someone doing work in the same year as Verdi is writing, drew girls having their parties. There, again, there are hundreds of them dressed like this, and I just regard it as a... as a... they manage to achieve something which I say is the unpleasant and rather improbable skill of condescending upwards. Particularly American critics who know nothing about it at all.

Well, I mean, I spend an enormous amount of my time going to art galleries, collecting cards and looking at pictures and, you know, and I just remember all these things and I know how they ought to look. But it’s hopeless to be written about [by] people who are visually illiterate, and in many cases, historically illiterate, as well.  It’s just... and I sound so cantankerous and misanthropic but, you know, 50 years of it is enough to get under your skin.

Initially studying medicine at Cambridge, Sir Jonathan Miller came to prominence with the production of the British comedy revue, Beyond the Fringe. Following on from this success he embarked on a career in the theatre, directing a 1970 West End production of “The Merchant of Venice” starring Laurence Olivier. He also started directing opera, famously producing a modern, Mafia-themed version of “Rigoletto”.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: La Traviata, Rigoletto, 1850, Giuseppe Verdi

Duration: 2 minutes, 21 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2008

Date story went live: 16 August 2011