Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Conversation with Richard Miller

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Conversation with Richard Miller

Article excerpt

LESLIE HOLMES (LH): It's so fitting to have this issue of Journal of Singing dedicated to you in celebration of your eightieth birthday and retirement from Oberlin. You are an innovator and a giant in the field of vocology and pedagogy, plus you were editor of the Journal for seven years. You also had a considerable career as a singer, and that will be our focus for now.

RICHARD MILLER (RM): That's very kind of you.

LH: You went to Westminster Choir College . . .

RM: . . . for two years, and that's where I met my wife. Both of us learned a lot of things at Westminster, but we wanted more of a university environment. So I transferred to the University of Michigan.

LH: You, I believe, got a masters and doctorate there.

RM: No, I didn't. I got a bachelors and masters there and the doctorate is actually an Honorary Degree in Humane Letters from Gustaphus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. That came at a later time for literary contributions, pedagogy, and so forth. It was a Doctorate of Humanities.

LH: After Michigan you received a Fulbright and went off to Rome.

RM: That is correct, and I had a wonderful time for more than a year. It was not very long after World War II had ended, and life was very, very different in Italy than it is now, as far as affluence is concerned. It was a very poor, but exciting, country. And I had wonderful teachers there, so that was great.

LH: What I'm curious about is how things progressed from there, for you, as a singer and performer?

RM: There was at that time one of the most important competitions for performers in Geneva. More or less on a whim, I went to that and I won the silver medal.

LH: How exciting!

RM: They did a tour of four or five theaters with the winners. I was on that tour. Two of us were singers. The others were pianists and violinists, I think. After the concert in Basel the intendant asked me to stop by the office in the morning. Immediately I was offered a contract for the coming year. We asked for ten days to think about it. My wife and I went on to Zürich. We were on the street, eating nuts, when someone recognized me and arranged for an audition. After the audition, they asked if I could learn La Bohème in a very short time, in German. I had sung it in Italian and English, so I said, "Sure!" We came up a few weeks later and began rehearsals for La Bohème, and about a month after that I was already making my début as Rodolfo, at the age of twenty-six.

LH: How long were you in Zürich?

RM: Four years.

LH: What roles did you sing there?

RM: Oh, as I said, I sang Rodolfo in La Bohème, the Duke in Rigoletto, Alfredo in La traviata, Almaviva in The Barber of Seville, Don Giovanni, and several others. That was a theater where you repeated the roles you sang, so I did them many times. I was hired to do the Italianate repertoire. I also did the Mozart stuff, my fondest of them being Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni.

LH: Well, I know you did about fifty-five roles.

RM: Many of them were major roles, but not all of them. I sang Ismaele in Nabucco, the Singer in Rosenkavalier, Jenik in The Bartered Bride, and some other roles like that. And then I did a lot of things I didn't necessarily want to do. In addition to that, I did a fair amount of stuff in modern operas.

LH: What's it like doing the role of the Singer, where you come on stage and immediately sing that gorgeous, but very challenging, aria?

RM: At first I wasn't sure I could do it. I'll tell you a little story. I was very concerned, the first time, because Hans Knappertsbusch was the conductor. He was known as a very demanding person. At the break, during the dress rehearsal, I heard him coming up the stairs muttering to himself. I thought, "Oh, my gosh!" He came into the room and said, "Da ist mein Rosenkavaliersänger! I am always going to use you, because you are the Rosenkavaliersänger! …

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