Alfredo Kraus, Lyric Spanish Tenor

A leading lyric tenor of his generation, Alfredo Kraus managed his vocal and artistic gifts into one of the longest and most admired careers in the 20th century. Always careful — both in choice of roles and in the regulation of his performing schedule — not to overextend himself, he achieved a degree of consistency and longevity that kept him active professionally well into his sixties, always applauded for his freely produced tone.

A te, o cara, amor talora
Amor talora mi guido furtivo e in pianto
Or mi guida a te d’accanto
Tra la gioia e l’esultar.

Senza occaso quest’aurora
Mai null’ombra, o duol vi dia,
Santa in voi la fiamma sia,
Pace ogno v’allieti il cor!

Ah! mio Arturo! Or son tua!

Ah, Elvira mia! sì, mia tu sei!

Or son tua!

Sì, mia tu sei!
Cielo arridi a voti miei,
Benedici a tanto amor.

Al brillar di si bell’ora,
Se rammento il mio tormento
Si raddoppia il mio contento,
M’e piu caro il palpitar.

To you, dear, love sometimes
Sometimes I drive myself stealthily and in tears
Now guide me to you next
Between joy and exultation.

Without occasion this dawn
May shadows nor sorrow never harm you,
Rest holy in you the flame,
Peace to all, may cheer enter into each heart!

Ah! my Arturo! Now I’m yours!

Ah, my Elvira! yes, you are mine!

Now I’m yours!

Yes, you are mine!
Heaven grants my vows,
And blesses so much love.

At the brightest hour,
If I remember my torment
My happiness doubles,
My heart beats more dearly.

Here is Juan Diego Florez singing Arturo’s aria in I Puritani, a Bel Canto opera by Bellini. Normally, I would just say listen and see whom you like better, but in this case, I think that certain things should be pointed out. Juan Diego’s tongue is retracted. He is using the swallowing muscles to produce a sound. This is in contradistinction to Kraus, whose voice is always free, or, as he put it, “on the breath”. Juan Diego’s throat is tight, he is singing right on his vocal cords, as opposed to letting the air and the tone vibrate unimpeded as Kraus does. Consequently, when Juan Diego hits a high note, it is almost falsetto, it is flat, and there is no ring to the voice (this is what the Italians call “lo squillo”). I though that these were points that are worth highlighting. It is an art to learn how to sing well.

CHÉNIER
Come un bel dì di maggio
che con bacio di vento
e carezza di raggio
si spegne in firmamento,
col bacio io d’una rima,
carezza di poesia,
salgo l’estrema cima
dell’esistenza mia.
La sfera che cammina
per ogni umana sorte
ecco già mi avvicina
all’ora della morte,
e forse pria che l’ultima
mia strofe sia finita,
m’annuncerà il carnefice
la fine della vita.
Sia! Strofe, ultima Dea!
ancor dona al tuo poeta
la sfolgorante idea,
la fiamma consueta;
io, a te, mentre tu vivida
a me sgorghi dal cuore,
darò per rima il gelido
spiro d’un uom che muore

CHÉNIER
Like a beautiful day in May
that with kiss of wind
and the caress of a ray of sunlight,
goes off into the heavens,
With my kiss of a rhyme,
in the caress of poetry,
I soar to the highest peak,
of my existence.
The walking spirit
for every human fate
is already approaching me
at the time of death,
and perhaps before
my stanza is finished,
the executioner will announce to me
the end of life.
So be it! Stanza, final Goddess!
still give to your poet
the brilliant idea,
the customary flame;
I, to you, while you are vivid
to me, you flow into my heart,
I shall give in rhyme the chilled
exhalation of a dying man.

Recondita armonia di belleze diverse!…E bruna Floria,
l’ardente amante mia.
E te, beltade ignota, cinta di chiome bionde!
Tu azzuro hai l’occhio, Tosca ha l’occhio nero!
L’arte nel suo mistero
le diverse belleze insiem confonde:
ma nel ritrar costei
il mio solo pensiero,
ah! il mio solo pensier, sei tu,
Tosca, sei tu!

Little known harmony of different beauties
The brunette, Floria, is my passionate lover.
and you unknown beauty
surrounded by light hair!
you have blue eyes
Tosca has black eyes!
The mystery of her art
confuses the diverse beauties together
but while I paint her
My only thought,
Ah, my only thought, is of you
Tosca it is of you!

Kraus at 69. He is singing better than tenors 40 years his younger.

Pourquoi me réveiller, Werther’s aria from Werther

Pourquoi me réveiller,
ô souffle du printemps?
Pourquoi me réveiller?
Sur mon front je sens tes caresses,
et pourtant bien proche est le temps
des orages et des tristesses!
Pourquoi me réveiller,
ô souffle du printemps?

Demain dans le vallon
viendra le voyageur
se souvenant de ma gloire première.
Et ses yeux vainement
chercheront ma splendeur.
Ils ne trouveront plus que deuil
et que misère! Hélas!
Pourquoi me réveiller,
ô souffle du printemps!

Why awaken me? Werther’s aria from Werther

Why do you awaken me?
o breath of Spring?
Why do you awaken me?
On my brow I feel your caresses,
and yet very near is the time
of storms and sorrows!
Why do you awaken me,
o breath of Spring?

Tomorrow, into the valley
will come the traveller
remembering my early glory
And his eyes in vain
will look for my splendor.
They will find no more than mourning
and misery. Alas!
Why do you awaken me,
o breath of Spring!

Alfredo Kraus

Alfredo Kraus, tenor, born September 24, 1927; died September 10, 1999.

Kraus managed both his voice and his life with great success. He graduated as an industrial engineer before turning to singing as a career, so was a comparatively late starter. But once he had made his decision and studied for a time in Milan with Mercedes Liopart, he knew exactly which roles he could sing with comfort.

While he studied music as a young man, Kraus had no intention of becoming a professional singer, until friends and family began encouraging him to do so. In taking up vocal studies, Kraus avoided heavier repertory and focused on the bel canto parts that he knew were right for his voice. At the age of 28, he won first prize at the Geneva Competition, and a representative of the Cairo Opera, who was present at the auditions, offered him the role of the Duke in Rigoletto; he made his professional opera debut at the Cairo Opera in that role in 1956. His great success there was followed by equally gratifying appearances in Venice, Turin, and Barcelona. In 1959, he sang Arturo in I Puritani for the first time, made his La Scala and Covent Garden debuts, followed by his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1965 and Salzburg debut in 1968. In Rome, he sang his first Werther, a role that, like Arturo, was to become one of his signatures.

Kraus received many tempting offers to take on the heavier, crowd-pulling roles in Puccini and the later Verdi operas, but resisted them all. “A singer is like a weight-lifter,” he once explained. “If you try to lift more than you can support, or you fight with someone who is heavier than you are, then you will lose.” Thus he never ventured beyond the dramatic weight of Massenet’s Werther, a role that he made very much his own.

He felt no need to compete with others tenors, Franco Corelli and Giuseppe Di Stefano in the 60s or Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo in the 70s and 80s, because he knew he could not be surpassed in his chosen fach. No other tenor equalled his control of line and poetic eloquence of expression, especially in the bel canto roles. His voice retained its qualities because he nursed it carefully, resting it every year while he spent a full month’s holiday with his family at his home in the Canary Islands.

It was because he owned his own recording company that during his early years he was seldom invited to record for the leading British and American companies, though he can be heard in a memorable Così Fan Tutte with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and as Alfredo to Maria Callas’s Violetta in a Traviata recorded live in Lisbon in 1958, and released 22 years later (the famed Lisbon Traviata).

Eventually, in the 70s, he was able to record most of his best-known roles. But he never cared for recording, considering it cold and artificial.

Kraus was a considerable actor, his natural elegance on the stage being ideally suited to nobly romantic roles. The finest tribute to him as a complete artist in the opera house was paid by one of his most distinguished colleagues, Victoria de los Angeles.

In 1996, Kraus undertook an international tour to mark his 40th anniversary on the operatic stage. He died in 1999.