John Gläser (1888-1968) was a German Heldentenor whose three decade career was primarily confined to the German speaking world. Born in Berlin, Gläser began his musical life as a soloist with Berlin Court and Cathedral Choirs. Realizing that his was a talent worthy of cultivation, the young man began vocal studies in his hometown as a teenager. At 21, Gläser began working as a chorister with the Komische Oper Berlin, where he gained invaluable stage experience. Two years later, the young tenor took his solo bow at the Stadttheater in Ulm and was engaged by the Hoftheater Altenburg shortly thereafter. During this early period, Gläser was singing primarily lyric roles. However, after landing a contract with the Breslau Opera (now Opera Wroclaw) in 1912, the tenor began to assume heavier roles from Italian and German works. Gläser sang his first engagement at Oper Frankfurt in 1917. This theater was to become the singer’s artistic home and saw him evolve into a full fledged Heldentenor. In Frankfurt he created the role of the minstrel, Elis, in the world premiere of Franz Schrecker’s Der Schatzgräber in 1920. Guest performances took him to Berlin, Dresden, Stuttgart, Munich, Hamburg, Vienna, Bern, Paris and to the Salzburg Festival of 1926, where he sang Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos.
The tenor celebrated his 25th anniversary with Oper Frankfurt with a performance of Canio in Pagliacci. This performance also marked his farewell to the stage, after which the tenor devoted his energies to teaching. In 1961, Gläser was bestowed with the honorary title of President of the Guild of the German Stage, a position he held for two years. Gläser died in Frankfurt on May 27, 1968, just two weeks shy of his 80th birthday.
John Gläser was a sadly underappreciated artist who is scarcely remembered today. In the era of truly great Germanic tenors…Völker, Hutt, Tauber, Erb, Sembach, Taucher, Soot, Hensel and Slezak, to name just a few…Gläser seems to have been lost from the collective memory of opera lovers. In addition, Gläser NEVER had his sights set on international fame and fortune. The tenor was a very modest man who simply wanted to practice his art and make a comfortable living doing so. Because of that, he chose to sing almost exclusively in Frankfurt during much of his career. Although this choice was personally and artistically satisfying, it prevented him from entering the realm of the truly legendary tenors of his era. In spite of his relatively limited career, Gläser compiled a rather impressive and varied repertoire of some fifty roles including Grigori in Boris Godunov (a role which he sang in the German premiere of Mussorgsky’s opera in 1913), Vasily Golitsyn in Khovanschina, Max in Der Freischütz, Herman in Pique Dame, Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, The Duke in Rigoletto, Radames in Aïda, Manrico in Il Trovatore, Gabriele in Simon Boccanegra, Alfredo in La Traviata, Riccardo in Un Ballo in Maschera, Rodolfo in La Bohème, Cavaradossi in Tosca, Dick Johnson in La Fanciulla del West, Calaf in Turandot, Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana, Don José in Carmen, Vasco in L’Africaine, the Emperor in Die Frau Ohne Schatten, Erik in Der Fliegende Holländer, Walther von Stolzing in Die Meistersinger, Loge in Das Rheingold, and the title roles in Parsifal, Lohengrin, Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Otello, Wolf-Ferrari’s Sly and Pfitzner’s Palestrina. Gläser was also quite popular in the lighter works of Lehár, Millöcker and Strauss. Luckily, the tenor made a respectable number of recordings for The Gramophone Company and Parlophon between 1919 and 1932. These records reveal a burnished tone, voluminous yet lyrical, with a pleasing artistry and attention to musical detail. Here, Gläser sings "Elle ne croyait pas" ("Wie ihre Unschuld" in its German translation) from Mignon by Thomas. This recording was made in Berlin for The Gramophone Company in 1919.