Ronnita Miller has traveled a long way since she started singing at Boca Ciega High School in St. Petersburg because she had a crush on a boy in chorus. At 34, Miller is an opera singer with a career that has blossomed in the past few years, and now she is going international.
This month, Miller moved to Berlin to join the ensemble of Deutsche Oper Berlin, the second-largest opera company in Germany. Its music director is Donald Runnicles, the Scottish conductor who got to know the mezzo soprano when he led San Francisco Opera's performances of Wagner's Ring cycle in 2011, and she sang the roles of Erda and the First Norn.
"As a result of doing the Ring in San Francisco, I ended up going to Berlin to audition," Miller said. "It went really well and I got a two-year contract with them. You join the company, and they give you roles to sing, which is great."
Miller, who studied voice at St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida, has had success in the United States at Los Angeles Opera in particular, and she recently made her Metropolitan Opera debut in the Ring. Heading off to Germany is a tremendous turning point in the St. Petersburg native's career.
"I think the chief advantage of this is building more rep (repertory) and being seen by new audiences and new people in the business on the other side of the ocean," she said. "Once you become known, you can break into the European market and start singing more places around the world. That's what any singer hopes for, to be able to practice your art globally."
Miller will be singing another Ring in Berlin — one of many such productions around the world in 2013, the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth — starting in September, with no less an eminence than Simon Rattle, music director of the Berlin Philharmonic, in the pit. She'll be singing three roles in the four-opera opus, the Rhinemaiden Flosshilde, the Valkyrie Grimgerde and the First Norn.
In the upcoming season in Berlin, Miller is also scheduled to sing such mezzo roles as Fenena in Verdi's Nabucco, the Witch in Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, Marcellina in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro and Lucia in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana.
"The thing I'm really excited about is singing some roles I can really dig into and put my technique to the test in," she said. "There are some roles here where you don't have any choice but to breathe and really sing. You just have to go for it. There's no time to second-guess yourself."
Fenena in Nabucco is Miller's debut in a Verdi role. "It was time for me to make friends with Verdi," she said. "He's a composer that I will have to sing more of later in my life." This year is also the 200th anniversary of Verdi's birth.
Berlin is overflowing with opera, with three major companies — the other two are the Komische Oper and the Staatsoper Unter den Linden (with Daniel Barenboim as music director) — performing a different work virtually every night. Deutsche Oper alone has more than 30 productions next season.
"My German's pretty okay," Miller said. "I did study in Austria for two consecutive summers and became proficient. I think being back over there will bring it back."
During the 2013-14 season, she will return to LA Opera to sing Dame Quickly in Verdi's Falstaff and the Third Lady in Mozart's Magic Flute.
Miller keeps in touch with friends in the bay area and is a fan of her hometown St. Petersburg Opera. A year ago, she sang the role of Marcellina in the company's production of The Marriage of Figaro.
An only child, she is looking forward to Christmas, when her parents, Henry and Anita James, will visit her in Berlin. She will be playing the Witch in Hansel and Gretel. "They're very excited," Miller said. "It gives them a reason to come to Germany."
More stage news
• In an interesting footnote to its 2013-14 season, St. Petersburg Opera will be going all out with West Side Story, giving six performances next June and July. Normally, the company has three performances of a work. The production team plans to re-create the original Jerome Robbins choreography.
• Stageworks in Tampa announced its 2013-14 season, which opens with the Lorraine Hansberry classic A Raisin the Sun (Oct. 1-20). The lineup also includes The Divine Sister by Charles Busch (Feb. 6-23), Chinglish by David Henry Hwang (March 27-April 11), A Few Good Men by Aaron Sorkin (May 1-18) and The Sugarbean Sisters by Nathan Sanders (June 12-29).
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.