Steve Mazer has two lifelong passions: opera singing and glassblowing. He has performed in operas at The Kennedy Center in Washington, as a chorus singer or background actor. And his glass sculptures have been featured in shows throughout Montgomery County, including at the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington. What the two passions have in common, he said, is that they were fanned by the many instructors he’s had over the years.
“The whole secret to anything is having good teachers,” said the 73-year-old Potomac resident. “And I just had some excellent teachers that fired up my interest.”
Once a week he visits the Art of Fire glassblowing studio in Laytonsville. As an orthopedic surgeon — he retired in 2014 — Mazer liked working with his hands. Now, glasswork is his hands-on creative outlet. Mazer said he admires glass in particular because any item made of glass can look spectacular when light shines through it.
Mazer started taken lessons at the studio about eight years ago. Each session begins with Mazer heating a chunk of glass to 900 degrees. He then blows into the glass and shapes it with giant tweezers and shears.
“One of the things that’s really interesting about glassblowing, there’s nothing high tech,” Mazer said. “It’s the same tools that have been used for 2,000 years. And that’s one of the fascinating parts of it.”
Mazer said he doesn’t make “useful things.’’ His work is strictly for display. He gives away a lot of his glass sculptures or donates them to charity auctions. But the majority of Mazer’s glassworks ends up at his home.
“A lot of my friends have my glass because my wife keeps saying, ‘When are you going to get rid of some of these? There’s so much glass here!’” Mazer said.
It was his wife who encouraged him to sign up for the glassblowing class after they saw an ad in the newspaper.
“And I said I can’t do anything artistic. I can’t even draw a circle,” Mazer said.
Mazer is a member of Kol Shalom, in Rockville. A lot of his art can be seen on his website, Frabjous Glass by Steve Mazer.
Mazer attributes his glasswork ability to his teachers’ guidance. It’s something he’s had to work at over years to become proficient in, just like his classical singing.
In 2019, the Washington National Opera cast him as a “super,” or supernumerary actor. It’s like being an extra on a movie set with no lines. Mazer played a peasant servant in the Russian opera “Eugene Onegin.’’
“It was like a dream come true,” Mazer said. “It’s a magnificent opera. The music is really wonderful. And the fun part of that [experience] is you get to stand backstage and hear all the singers right up close.”
Opera has fascinated Mazer from an early age, “which was very unusual for a young kid.” Growing up, Mazer listened to his mother play the works of opera singers Robert Merrill, Richard Tucker and Beverly Sills.
But it wasn’t until Mazer was in his 30s that he started taking lessons. Just like with glassblowing, he saw an ad for voice lessons through a National Symphony Orchestra fundraiser and decided to give it a try.
“I’ve always been a fan of great singers. And never knowing that I could sing, I tried it out. And I found that I didn’t have a great voice, but I had a voice good enough that was trainable,” Mazer said. “I did it just for fun. And it was fun. So I convinced that teacher to keep me on as a student.”
Over the years, Mazer has studied under three different opera singers. For the past 20 years it’s been Martha Randall, a lecturer at the University of Maryland. She helps him refine his voice and learn proper pronunciation. Mazer mostly sings in languages other than English: Yiddish, German and Italian.
“I’ve been told that I sound like I really speak German, even though I don’t understand it at all,” he said.
Mazer doesn’t often perform in front of large crowds, but every few years he’ll invite friends over for a recital and dinner.
“The catch is that if you wanted to have a nice dinner, you have to come hear me sing. But it turned out that most people thought it was fun.”
As many as 70 people came to Mazer’s home to hear him sing from the opera “The Barber of Seville.”
“If you find yourself a good teacher, you can do things,” he said.