Opera Singer. A soprano who briefly starred at New York's Metropolitan Opera, she is probably better remembered as one of the early 20th century's premier concert and recording artists. Born Reba Feinsohn to a musical family, she inherited her voice from her mother, was raised in poverty on Manhattan's Lower East Side, trained as a secretary, and was working as a clerk at a New York law firm when she married the somewhat older insurance man Bernard Glick in 1902. Reba bore a daughter who grew up to be the noted critic and author Marcia Davenport and sang for her own enjoyment but had no opportunity for professional development until a today-unknown visitor to the Glick apartment heard her and used his connections to arrange for her to study with Arturo Buzzi-Peccia. She made rapid progress, accompanied her teacher on a European tour, and in 1909 auditioned at the Metropolitan for general manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza and conductor Arturo Toscanini. Taking 'Alma Gluck' as her stage name, she made her November 16, 1909 debut as Sophie from Jules Massenet's "Werther" to rave reviews. Success followed in such roles as a Priestess in Verdi's "Aida", Esmeralda from Smetana's "The Bartered Bride", a Happy Spirit in Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice", a Flower Maiden from Wagner's "Parsifal", and Freia of the same composer's "Das Rheingold", but Alma was finding that she enjoyed the Met's Sunday Night Concerts more than she did staged opera. In March of 1911 Alma signed a recording contract with RCA Victor and around that time began a romance with violinist Efrem Zimbalist, whether before or after her divorce was final being unclear. Though she moved up to such major roles as Venus in Wagner's "Tannhauser", Nedda from Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci", and Mimi of Puccini's "La Boheme", she remained unhappy in opera and was becoming rich via her concerts and records, anyway; thru the intervention of wealthy mogul and arts patron Otto Kahn, she broke her contract with the Met and following her final performance as the doomed Gilda of Verdi's "Rigoletto" on April 27, 1912 continued her recital and recording career. Singing classical arias and American folk songs as well as whatever her audience wanted to hear, her concerts were immensely successful as were her studio efforts, with her disc of "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" becoming the recording industry's first million-seller. Alma spent time in Paris training with legendary tenor-turned-teacher Jean de Reszke and, despite scandal and gossip, maintained both a personal and professional relationship with Zimbalist, the pair frequently giving joint recitals before and after marrying on June 16, 1914. An opponent of US entry into World War I, once the decision was made she turned into a major supporter of the troops, giving money to the Red Cross and frequently performing at War Bond rallies. While she and her husband were both non-observant Jews, they were drawn to Christianity and had their children, including Marcia, baptized in the Episcopal Church and educated in parochial schools; indeed, Alma partnered with distinguished alto Louise Homer in a number of recordings of Christian hymns. She and Zimbalist partnered in a 1921 concert tour but by then her voice was essentially used-up and the venture flopped; she devoted her energies to her family, taught at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute, made a final radio broadcast in 1929, and died of hepatic cirrhosis. One source gives her birth name as 'Fiersohn' but 'Feinsohn' is confirmed by her death certificate; today a portion of her recorded legacy is preserved on CD while the original 78s are, ironically, not valuable due to their high popularity when they were released. Her youngest child (born 1918) is actor Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.
Bio by: Bob Hufford
Cremation at Fresh in NYC