It’s (almost) just like “Glee“: a football hero, torn between life on the field and his musical ambitions. But for bass-baritone Keith Miller, 37, the stakes were a bit higher than high school: Could he give up his professional football career for the Metropolitan Opera? The star fullback chose both, pursuing opera training after successful seasons with the University of Colorado-Boulder, then European and arena leagues. Making his Washington National Opera debut in this month’s production of “Madama Butterfly,” Miller talks arias, athleticism and the unexpected Andrew Lloyd Webber show that led him to the stage.
How did you discover opera?
Everything changed on December 8, 1994. I took a girlfriend to see “The Phantom of the Opera.” I thought it’d be a cool date for her but was really just blown away. I was at the record store the next morning. I moved onto opera when I ran out of musicals.
What was the turning point?
I was working out with the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos, singing in churches, and I saw an advertisement for the Pine Mountain Music Festival in [Michigan]. I only needed one aria; I learned one from Don Giovanni, sang the audition, and the next thing I knew, I had four offers.
It seems like you could be the poster boy for bringing opera to a wider audience. How can opera have broader appeal?
I think the biggest thing that’s happening now is the Met’s HD Theater broadcast; it’s a huge step in making opera accessible. The biggest thing we can do is carry the torch of the art form and make sure that the flame is brighter than when we received it.
Opera or football?
I can’t choose. I remember my first day I walked into Colorado, I just wanted one play, one run down the field. I became a four-year starter. I have a great appreciation for the people who gave me opportunities, even when they shouldn’t have. It doesn’t matter if it’s football, singing. … To do anything you truly love, it’s a blessing to have the chance.
» Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; opens Sat., runs through March 19, $55-$300; 202-467-4600, (Foggy Bottom)
Photo by Scott Harrison