Keith Miller basbaryton
Keith Miller Trades in Football Playbook for the Roster of the Metropolitan Opera
Meteoric Rise Culminates in Over 200 Met Performances and Significant Debuts
Former star fullback Keith Miller is the only opera singer who can talk about “tackling an aria” the way a football player talks about tackling opponents on the gridiron.
One of opera’s hottest rising young stars, the bass-baritone knows the odds. A million-to-one to make it in professional football, two million-to-one to succeed in opera. But never bet against Keith Miller. The singer, who matches a steely determination with a commanding stage presence, has bucked the odds. He has thrived in both worlds, going from the gridiron to one of opera’s most prestigious stages, the Metropolitan Opera.
In opera terms, his rise has been meteoric. In less than six years as a professional singer, Miller has drawn on his powerfully resonant rumble of a voice, sculpted physique and astounding athleticism to put his stamp on operatic productions old and new. Miller has sung in over 200 performances at the Metropolitan Opera, appeared in numerous HD Met Opera productions broadcast to movie theatres in 46 countries, and increasingly performs on the concert stage. Opera News has hailed his “smoldering presence and sharp, booming delivery” and called him an “artist to watch.”
By applying the same rigorous training to his singing career as he did when he was an athlete, Miller is now one of the few performers today who can take on opera’s increasingly challenging roles that demand not only a beautiful voice but also the strength and stamina to make a stage fight thrilling or a dance sequence artful. He’s a perfect fit in the new world of opera where singers are expected to look like movie stars and where fitness is a non-negotiable requirement.
Whether he is singing as the Imperial Commissioner of Madama Butterfly, the head demon of Hell in Armida, a cowboy in La fanciulla del West with Deborah Voigt, Zuniga in Carmen or Monterone in Rigoletto, Miller casts an imposing figure. Impressed by his sonorous voice and physical prowess, directors like Mary Zimmerman now look for ways to enhance his time on stage.
Most recently, Miller made his debut in 2011 at venues nationwide from the Washington and Seattle Opera to the Breckenridge Music Festival. As Artist in Residence with the Savannah Children’s Choir, where one of his objectives has been to break down stereotypes about opera and the arts, he gave lectures, master classes and sang in recital. In the fall he returned to the Metropolitan Opera opening night as part of the star-studded cast of Anna Bolena.
In 2012, Miller’s skyward trajectory continues at the Metropolitan Opera where his performances will include singing in Billy Budd and Anna Bolena. Other scheduled performances include a concert at Carnegie Hall with the American Symphony Orchestra, a recital at the Breckenridge Music Festival in Colorado, and Florencia en el Amazonas at Opera Colorado.
Because of his own athletic training and how much it has contributed to his success as a singer, Keith has also founded Puissance Training (Meaning “Power” in French), a progressive new way of looking at opera today that helps singers train for physically demanding roles and scenes. And in yet another sign of how football and opera can mix, he’s doing the training with the help of a business partner, one of his former football trainers.
The fish-out-of-water back-story of this kid from the tiny Colorado town of Ovid (population 300) proves it can be done. A star fullback for the University of Colorado, Miller played in numerous major college bowl games including two Fiesta Bowls, the Cotton Bowl, Aloha Bowl and Independence Bowl. In 1996, he carried the Olympic torch for the Atlanta Games along a portion of the old Pony Express trail in his home state. Miller played professional football for five years and had a promising pro career, playing for the European and Arena Football Leagues and serious shots with NFL teams were on the horizon. He was also in the President’s Leadership class, a highly selective honors class, unusual for a star athlete. But along the way, another passion was taking hold.
The musical flame was ignited after attending “Phantom of the Opera” with a college girl friend. After devouring the musical theater canon, he moved on to opera, simultaneously learning scores and football plays. Not surprisingly, singing arias and Queen of the Night made Miller a locker room target; it never deterred him.
Neither did his lack of any background in music. He copied out piano and vocal scores. Miller listened to the best recordings he could find and mimicked what he heard. And though it was seeing Pavarotti on “The Three Tenors” that stirred his imagination, he found his real soul mate in singers like fellow bass-baritone Sam Ramey. “It was a weird process of trying to find your own voice by copying someone else,” Miller recalls.
After graduation, Miller’s musical self-education progressed though singing continued to take a backseat to football. He played in Finland, then returned to the US to play arena ball and opportunity was knocking from the NFL. Instead, he decided to pursue his growing obsession with music. An audition in Minnesota landed him four offers, including a spot at the Pine Mountain Music Festival in Michigan. Subsequently, he was admitted to Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts.
Miller had virtually no prior training, not even the ability to read music when he decided to switch from football to opera. Not surprisingly, singing arias made Miller a locker room target; it never deterred him. Everyone told him not to continue his athletic training or risk hurting his voice. Miller has proved them wrong.
He admits there was a rather steep learning curve: “You’re always having to prove yourself because there’s a gimmick attached to you. I was expected to be on par with vocal students who had advanced degrees and sung in major competitions. I needed to know the history of the libretto, how to sight read, play piano, technique, and musicianship. But like anything else, you work your butt off and make it happen.”
A competitor at heart, Miller has tackled his new vocation with a fourth-and-goal-to-go intensity, watching what people do right and wrong and learning from their mistakes to put himself on top. “One person in the world is going to be the winner and I’m going to put my money on me,” he offers.
And Miller has proved himself a winner. Shortly after graduating from AVA in 2006, Miller tried out for the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. He didn’t get in. What he did get was an offer for a full season with the company, starting with a dramatic new production ofMadama Butterfly staged by the late Anthony Minghella and shot for TV. Since then he has been a regular performer at the Met, appearing in such operas as Carmen, Tosca, War and Peace, Macbeth, Faust, Rigoletto, Eugene Onegin, Andrea Chenier, and Gianni Schicchi, among others.
Not only is his own career on a skyward trajectory, Miller is using his talent and experience to help others succeed. He serves as the Director for Opera and Opera Young Artist Program at the Crested Butte Music Festival in Colorado—a job he got after telling a festival executive that the existing program had the potential to be the best in the country. The singer has significantly elevated the program’s instructional quality and through Miller’s efforts with others, applications have grown from 34 in the program’s first year to 518 last year.
Miller returned in 2011 for his second residency to give lectures, recitals and master classes to 18 public schools. Over 5000 children were touched by Miller’s work with the program!
“I tell these kids, I’m here to teach you how to be more successful than I am. I watched, borrowed, stole–in a good way—from all the people around me,” he says. “I want to inspire youngsters to find a dream and give them the tools to achieve it.”