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Mildred Miller Posvar, singer and founder of Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, dies at 98

Mildred Miller Posvar
Mary Jane Bent
University of Pittsburgh
Mildred Miller Posvar

Mildred Miller Posvar, a longtime leading lady of Pittsburgh’s opera scene and a former “First Lady” of the University of Pittsburgh, has died.

Posvar, who died Wednesday at age 98, was born in Cleveland, in 1924. She spent more than 20 years as a featured mezzo-soprano at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, specializing in male “pants” roles. Known professionally as Mildred Miller, she also recorded and performed at opera houses around the U.S. and overseas, and she appeared on radio and television programs as a regular performer.

In 1967, she and her husband, Wesley W. Posvar, moved to Pittsburgh when he was named Pitt’s 15th chancellor — a role in which he would serve for nearly a quarter-century. Wesley Posvar died in 2001.

In 1978, she founded the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh and served as its artistic director until 1999. (The group continues operations today as Pittsburgh Festival Opera.)

Posvar was also known locally as a vocal coach and teacher at the Carnegie Mellon School of Music. She gave master classes internationally, and retired only in 2021 at age 95, said her daughter Lisa Posvar Rossi. She continued to attend board meetings, arts performances and football games until last year, her daughter said.

A daughter of German immigrants, the former Mildred Müller graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1946. She later graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music and studied opera at the Tanglewood Music Center.

She made her opera debut in 1946 at the Tanglewood Music Festival in the U.S. premiere of Benjamin Britten’s “Peter Grimes,” conducted by Leonard Bernstein. While performing in Italy, she reconnected with her future husband, a high school classmate who was beginning a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University. They married in 1950 in Stuttgart, Germany.

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Posvar performed with opera companies and at festivals in Europe before making her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1951 as Cherubino in “The Marriage of Figaro” — a performance delayed by a year after she became pregnant with the first of her three children. She spent 23 years at the Met, where she sang 21 roles in 338 performances. While there, she became known as “Legs Miller” after being cast in multiple “pants” roles, her daughter said.

Through her career, Posvar shared stages in Europe and the U.S. with opera legends Placido Domingo, Robert Merrill, Roberta Peters, Leontyne Price and many others, and she worked with many noted conductors. As a recitalist and soloist with orchestras, she performed for audiences at the White House, Carnegie Hall in New York, the Hollywood Bowl and other storied venues in North America, Europe and Southeast Asia.

In 1971, she sang the National Anthem at the first-ever night game of Major League Baseball’s World Series when the Pittsburgh Pirates played the Baltimore Orioles in Game 4 at Three Rivers Stadium.

She’d moved to Pittsburgh four years earlier with her husband when he became Pitt’s chancellor, but she continued to perform in New York and elsewhere until the mid-1970s. At Pitt, she regularly welcomed its incoming freshmen, faculty, alumni and visitors while also rooting for its football and basketball teams.

In addition to her involvement with the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, Posvar was a longtime board member of the Pittsburgh Opera and served on the music advisory board for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Visitation is scheduled from 1 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8 at John A. Freyvogel Sons, 4900 Centre Ave. A funeral service is planned for 2 p.m., Saturday, December 9 at Calvary Episcopal Church, 315 Shady Ave. A memorial service also is planned for a date and location to be announced.

Updated: December 1, 2023 at 6:25 PM EST
Updated to include more biographical information.
Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: