MILLER, MILDRED (16 Dec. 1924–29 Nov. 2023) was a prominent mezzo-soprano with New York’s Metropolitan Opera Co. Born on Cleveland’s west side to German-American immigrants Wilhelm and Elsa Mueller, she graduated from West High School in 1943 and went to the CLEVELAND INSTITUTE OF MUSIC, where she studied voice under Marie Simmelink Kraft. Going to Boston for further study, she made her operatic debut as the Second Niece in the U.S. premiere of Britten’s “Peter Grimes,” under the direction of Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood. Like many American singers at that time, she went to Europe to gain operatic experience in Munich, Stuttgart, and Edinburgh. In Italy, her path crossed that of Wesley Posvar, a former West High classmate in Europe as a Rhodes Scholar. They were married in Stuttgart. Posvar was a West Point graduate who would rise to the rank of brigadier general and chair of the social sciences division at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

Miller returned with a contract for the Metropolitan Opera, where she made her debut on 17 Nov. 1951 as Cherubino in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” It was one of opera’s “hosenrollen,” or “trouser roles,” in which boys or young men are sung by female voices. They became Miller’s specialty at the Met, ideally suited to the placement of her mezzo voice and youthfully attractive appearance (it also didn’t hurt that she looked good in tights). Besides Cherubino, in which she set a Met record of 61 appearances, she also appeared in such trouser roles as Siebel in “Faust,” Nicklausse in “The Tales of Hoffman,” and Octavian in “Der Rosenkavalier” (her favorite role). She also portrayed feminine characters such as Suzuki in “Madame Butterfly,” Meg Page in “Falstaff,” and the title role in “Carmen.” Clevelanders had an opportunity to see her in eleven seasons of the Met’s annual tour visits to Public Hall, including three appearances in her signature role of Cherubino. She opened the tenth season of West Shore Concerts in 1959 with a song recital in the Lakewood Civic Auditorium. “Yet impressive as is her work in opera, she surpasses it in recital, where her subtle communicative talent is fully revealed in a vast variety of styles and expressive nuances,” wrote the Plain Dealer’s music critic, HERBERT ELWELL. Two years later Miller became the first CIM alumna to give a benefit recital in the school’s new Kulas Hall. While not extensive, her recorded legacy includes classic renditions of Mahler song cycles under the direction of Bruno Walter.

Miller retired from the Met in 1975, after a total of 338 performances for 24 seasons in 21 different roles. Posvar retired from the Air Force to become chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh in 1967. There Mildred Miller Posvar became founder in 1978 of the Pittsburgh Opera Theater (later the Pittsburgh Festival Opera), where she served as artistic director for 22 years. Among the stars whose careers it launched was soprano Renee Fleming. Following the death of her husband in 2001, she continued to support the company, which in 2011 established the Mildred Miller International Voice Competition in her honor. Miller died in Pittsburgh, survived by three children: Wesley William Posvar, Lisa Posvar Rossi, and Marina Posvar.

- John Vacha

New York Times, 31 Dec. 2023.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1 Dec. 2023.

Eric Meyers, “Mildred Miller,” Opera News 61:8 (Feb. 2002), 28-30.

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