Pensacola, FL



as Ralph Rackstraw

Mar 12, 14

Hailed as “impassioned...and vibrant” (Opera Today), award-winning American tenor John Riesen is consistently impressing audiences with his "fantastic, powerful voice" (Texarkana Gazette). Riesen’s growing career boasts a variety of roles in which he excels and includes significant work in Opera, Musical Theater, studio recording and concert.  

Looking ahead to the 2020/2021 season John with return to acclaimed roles such as Younger Thompson in Glory Denied with Berkshire Opera Festival, Ralph Rackstraw in H.M.S. Pinafore with Pensacola Opera, and Frederic in Pirates of Penzance with Utah Operaas well as his Carnegie Hall debut as tenor soloist in the Messiah with Musica Sacra under the baton of Kent Tritle in 2021.

John has released two studio recording albums, "What You'd Call a Dream" (2019) and "Christmas at Home" (2020) that have reached over 500,000 streams on Spotify and Apple Music. He has also collaborated with Emmy-nominated PBS TV pianist Marina Arsenijevic in both video performance (during covid-19) and in studio recordings.

2019/2020 season highlights include house and role debuts at Michigan Opera Theater in the role of Adolfo Pirelli in Sweeney Todd and a return to one of John's most celebrated roles, Younger Thompson in Glory Denied with Atlanta Opera* and Urban Arias*cancelled due to covid19

Other highlights of the 2019-20 season included a debut with the New York Oratorio Society as the tenor soloist in Rachmaninoff's Vespers, a return to Intermountain Opera Bozeman as Bill Calhoun in Kiss Me Kate and to Opera Birmingham as Prince Charmant in their production of Massenet's Cendrillon*

In the 2018/2019 season, John was seen as Prince Charmant in Cendrillon (Opera Company of Middlebury), Lensky in Eugene Onegin (Intermountain Opera Bozeman), Alfredo in La Traviata (Gulfshore Opera, Tri-Cities Opera), Younger Thomspon in Glory Denied (Opera Birmingham, Des Moines Metro Opera), Candide in Candide (Chautauqua Opera), and made his Lincoln Center debut as Tony in West Side Story Suite (New York City Ballet).


In the last few seasons, John performed across the U.S., including appearances with the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, FAR Conservatory, Shades of Pink Foundation, NY Oratorio Society, Marshall Symphony, Jackson Symphony, Texarkana Symphony, Shreveport Symphony and Cuttime productions, as well as in concerts in Texarkana, TX; Pensacola and Miami, FL; Detroit, MI; Tulsa, OK; and more. Theatrically, Mr. Riesen was featured as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast at Shreveport Opera, Tony in West Side Story with the Boulder Philharmonic/Central City Opera, Tony in West Side Story with the New York City Ballet  at the Lincoln Center, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly (Pensacola Opera), Rodolfo in La Boheme (Shreveport Opera) and Frederic in Pirates of Penzance (Opera Ithaca, Shreveport Opera).




"...a vibrant, focused tenor...an impassioned performance of complete commitment and coltish deportment..."

-Opera News

" Mr. Riesen bolted about the stage, flailed at his captors’ abuse, repeatedly flung himself on the floor, and managed to do all of this while singing with secure abandon."

-Opera News

"Younger Thompson, the prisoner of war, was a physically grueling role, and John Riesen portrayed the character with heartfelt sincerity. "


"John Riesen as the Younger Jim went the distance to portray the fear, humiliation, and pain of the soldier’s harrowing nine-year ordeal. Opera is a great medium for showing people in emotional extremis, and Riesen knows how to deliver vocally that kind of tenor heartbreak."

-DC Theatre Scene

"Tenor John Riesen as the younger Jim Thompson, easily goes from the lyricism of a father who hung onto the mail from his family in his pocket when he was captured, including a misshapen paper star cut out by one of his children, to the dark tonelessness of a man kept in a tiger cage who creates the blueprint of a house in his mind to try to stay sane."

-Broadway World

"John Riesen’s substantial tenor remains strong through all the scenes in which he appears as Younger Thompson: from being kicked on the ground by his jailer to seeing the jungle for the first time at the end of the war with wonder and joy."

-DC Metro Arts

In 2016, John completed his second of two seasons as the resident tenor at Shreveport Opera, where he sang many leading roles, including Father Grenville in Dead Man Walking, Ralph Rackstraw in H.M.S Pinafore, Don José (cover)/Remendado in Carmen, Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance and Alfredo (cover)/Gastone in La Traviata. The previous year, John finished his third season at Chautauqua Opera as an AGMA apprentice artist. In his three summers at Chautauqua, he performed many roles, including Lensky in Eugene Onegin, Stagedoorman/2nd Dandy in The Ballad of Baby Doe, Malcom (cover) in Macbeth and Rector Adams (cover) in Peter Grimes. He was awarded the Chautuaqua Opera’s Studio Artist Award in 2012, Returning Apprentice Award in 2014 and Apprentice Artist Award in his final year, 2015.


Other awards and honors include first place in the Harold Haugh Light Opera Competition, second place in the William C. Byrd Competition, Regional Finalist and the Audience Choice Award in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Gulf Coast Region (2015), Great Lakes Region (2014 and 2013); second place in the Mary Jacobs Smith Singer of the Year Competition (2016), as well as the competition’s Dr. Melvin & Lea Johnson memorial award the previous year; fifth place in the Opera Columbus Cooper-Bing Competition (2015); and the Clare S. Mackey Endowed Fund at Michigan State University among other merits.

He has been privileged to sing for political figures, including President Barack Obama, President Jimmy Carter, Judge Stephanie Kulp Seymour and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He also has been honored to sing the national anthem at several collegiate, semi-professional and professional athletic organizations, including the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park, the Pensacola Ice Flyers, MSU hockey/baseball and more.

Before singing, John avidly pursued athletics and he attained Academic All-State honors in 2008 in baseball and All-Region in 2006 and 2007 (also for baseball) in the state of Michigan. His athletic career segued quickly into his singing during college, and has helped influence his performing ever since. .  

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