Czech by birth, German by parentage, Josef Protschka emerged as one of the more important tenors of his generation, despite a belated start to his operatic career. His repertory has been broad, encompassing Monteverdi, Mozart, Schubert, Gounod, Stravinsky, and others in opera, and Mozart, Schubert, and Schumann, to name a few, in lieder.
Protschka was born in Prague on February 5, 1944. He exhibited talent as a child and thus sang in performances of the so-called Schuloper, Der Jasager, by Kurt Weill, recording it as well in 1955.
After studies in Cologne, Protschka slowly shaped his career, appearing in concerts and solo recitals, not making his official operatic debut until 1977, in Giessen, Germany. After other appearances on-stage and further concerts and lieder recitals, Protschka began singing at the Cologne Opera in 1980.
Protschka's first important recordings were beginning to appear around this time. Among them was the 1980 release of Heinrich August Marschner's seldom-staged effort Der Vampyr. Protschka debuted at Salzburg in 1985, singing Peisander in Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse, and at the Drottningholm Palace Theater, Sweden, the following year as Idomeneus in Mozart's Idomeneo.
Protschka's recordings were gaining greater notice now, and among the more important of them were his 1987 Beethoven Missa Solemnis on Aurophon and the Nikolaus Harnoncourt-led Die Fledermaus on Elektra, from 1988, in which Protschka portrayed Alfred. Other successful recordings followed, including discs of Mozart lieder and arias, and Wagner's The Flying Dutchman.
Meanwhile, Protschka debuted at Covent Garden in 1990, singing Florestan in Beethoven's Fidelio, and at the Houston Grand Opera the following year singing Titus in Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. Later roles included Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress and Werther in Massenet's eponymous opera. Before the dawn of the next milennium, Protschka appeared in most of Europe's major opera houses, including those in Milan, Zurich, and Brussels.
In the new century, Protschka has been less active in his career, though he did appear on a DVD recording of the Beethoven Missa Solemnis in 2000, conducted by Michael Gielen for the Pioneer Classics label. In 2006, Protschka conducted master classes in singing at Kleinkummerfeld, Germany, focusing primarily on the music of Robert Schumann.