Courtney Miller should be no stranger to anyone who has been to a production this year. Armed with a brilliant sense for comedic timing, Courtney has had a “season of maids.” We saw her Opera San José debut as Gertrude in our season opener of Romeo and Juliet, and saw her bring the character of Berta to life in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Her final romp on the stage this season is as the vexxed Giovanna, Gilda’s maid, in our
current production of Rigoletto. Hear from this magnificent mezzo as she tells us how her season is going!
Opera San Jose: You have played the maids in our productions this season, what is your actual favorite type of character to play?
Courtney: If I wasn’t a fan of playing maids, I would need to find another job! #mezzolife My favorite roles are the comic relief roles; either as the stooge or the silly one. Thankfully, mezzos are often the sassy sidekick – and I’m grateful that all three directors have made these different maids a little quirky! My niche would be comedic roles in modern opera, but composers still need to write those operas! Where are the comedies!? …and I love a villain. The pièce de résistance would be a camp villain. Waiting to play Queen Grimhilde in the opera version of Snow White!
OSJ: You are currently singing Giovanna in our production Rigoletto and covering Maddalena. What are the difficulties you have found in playing these two women?
C: With roles like Giovanna, there’s not much time for nuance. But I’ve decided that while she’s decently terrified of her boss, Rigoletto, she’s “over it,” and, in a way, decides to just burn it all down. I love how intense Maddalena is in this production, but I do struggle with being “sexy” on stage. Sexy for laughs? All for it. Sexy for seduction? That’s hard for me. I’d much rather stab someone onstage than kiss them. Luckily there’s both!
OSJ: This is now your third production with OSJ, what have been some of the challenges and some of things you have found rewarding here?
C: I feel so fortunate to be at a single company for a season. Honestly, the dream
Courtney as Berta in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville
is to just be a “house singer” somewhere, but that’s basically unheard of in the US. At OSJ, I’ve been able to get to know company members better and feel more rooted than I would at a shorter engagement. My partner and I live in Alameda, so I can tell you that he’s thrilled to have me home! It was also very cool being in a movie this season! That wasn’t on my Bingo card, but now I want to do more!
As far as challenges, this career is invariably hard and not for the faint of heart. There’s always work to be done on your technique, networking, repertoire to learn, etc. But having more work-life balance because I’m closer to home and my partner, my sister and her family in Sacramento, my friends, my teacher and coaches, and all the perks of the Bay Area, has really helped alleviate some of the stress that comes with being a professional opera singer. I’d also like to thank Shawna, Myles, and Katie for their support and leadership. This is the first company that I’ve worked for that I feel has lifted me up and helped me strategize for the future.
Courtney as Gertrude and Andrew Fellows as Gregorio in Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet
OSJ: Looking to future performing, what are some roles that you are hoping to still tackle that you have not yet had the chance to?
C: Going back to the unwritten operas: I would love to tackle Elizabeth Bennet (or her mother!) from Pride and Prejudice, Gwendolen from The Importance of Being Ernest, Mrs. White from Clue, so many fun characters in Terry Pratchett novels…. And as for a “mad scene” or villain, roles on that list are Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, the titular Lizzie Borden, Brittomara (the Devil) in Jake Heggie’s If I Were You, and Marnie in Nico Muhly’s Marnie. I’d also love to sing all the Donizetti queens one day and be a Valkyrie!
OSJ: What are some things that you like to do in your free time when you are not singing?
C: I also petsit and dog walk, which I adore. As for actual “free time,” I have a garden and lots of houseplants. Being able to be near home this season and tend to my garden has been a treat! I also love traveling and hiking. Most of my traveling revolves around visiting National and State Parks. We’re so lucky in California to have such beautiful places to visit. Taking a dog I’m sitting to the beach with my partner is truly one of my greatest joys.