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Alfredo Kraus, lyric Spanish tenor

By September 13, 2022March 19th, 2023No Comments

I posted Alfredo Kraus a few years ago, and I am posting him again because he is a wonderful example of “singing on the breath”. To understand what this phrase means, it is helpful to look at the way in which many modern singers, and teachers, think of sound production. In Kraus’s training and before, singers were taught to think of the breath being emitted and barely touching the vocal cords. There was no sense of feeling the vocal cords work. Today, on the other hand, singers are taught to become attached to the body; in other words, to feel the vocal cords working. The way to feel the cords working is to tense the throat and to grab with the swallowing muscles, thereby creating an over-darkened sound, and a sound that lacks resonance. Singing on the breath is the opposite. The air flows past the vocal cords without any drag and resonates in the cavities of the head. In Kraus’s words:

”It’s a matter of knowing what kind of voice you have from the very beginning and learning to use that voice onstage, with the right technique” he told The New York Times in 1988. ”It is not so easy, because we are using an instrument that is immaterial. We can’t touch it, it’s only air. We don’t even hear it properly, because we hear a combination of inside and outside sound. You cannot go by what you hear, you must learn to be very sensitive to how it feels, and you can only speak of it in a very figurative language.”

Salut! demeure chaste et pure,

Quel trouble inconnu me pénètre?
Je sens l’amour s’emparer de mon être
Ô Marguerite, à tes pieds me voici!

Salut! demeure chaste et pure,
Salut! demeure chaste et pure,
Où se devine la présence
d’une âme innocent et divine!
Que de richesse en cette pauvreté
En ce réduit, que de félicité!
Que de richesse,
Que de richesse en cette pauvreté!
Ô nature, C’est là
que tu la fis si belle!
C’est là que cet enfant
A dormi sous ton aile,
A grandi sous tes yeux.
Là que de ton haleine
Enveloppant son âme
Tu fis avec l’amour épanouir la femme
En cet ange des cieux!
C’est là! Oui, c’est là!
Salut! demeure chaste et pure,
Salut! demeure chaste et pure,
Où se devine la présence
d’une âme innocente et divine!
Salut, salut, demeure chaste et pure, etc.

Greetings, chaste and pure dwelling

What unknown trouble penetrates me?
I sense love taking hold of my being!
O Marguerite, at your feet, here I am!

I greet you, home chaste and pure,
I greet you, home chaste and pure,
Where is manifested the presence
Of a soul, innocent and divine!
How much richness in this poverty!
In this retreat, how much happiness!
How much richness
What richness in this poverty!
O nature, it is here
That you have made her so beautiful!
It is here that this child
Slept under your wing,
Grew up under your eyes.
Here that your breath
Enveloping her soul,
You made, with love, the woman blossom
Into this angel from heaven!
It’s here! Yes, it is here!
I greet you, home chaste and pure,
I greet you, home chaste and pure,
Where is manifested the presence
Of a soul, innocent and divine!
I greet you, home chaste and pure, etc.

Pourquoi me réveiller?
Ah! bien souvent mon rêve s’envola
sur l’aile de ces vers,
et c’est toi, cher poète,
qui bien plutôt était mon interprète!
Toute mon âme est là!

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!
Pourquoi me réveiller, ô souffle du printemps?

Why do you awaken me?
Oh! Very often my dream flew
On the wings of this verse
and it’s you, dear poet
who rather was my performer!
All my soul is here!

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

Tomorrow into the valley will come the traveler,
Remembering my early glory.
And his eyes in vain will look for my splendor,
They will find only grief and misery!
Why do you awaken me, oh breath of Spring?

Alfredo Kraus
September 24, 1927 – September 10, 1999

Alfredo Kraus was born in Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, on Sept. 24, 1927. He enjoyed singing in church and at local celebrations, but his father — an Austrian who had taken Spanish citizenship — insisted that he prepare for a career in the sciences. Kraus earned a degree in electrical engineering, but when he was in his mid-20’s, he decided to study singing more seriously as well, first in Valencia and Barcelona, later with Mercedes Llopart, in Milan.

In 1955, Kraus won the silver medal in a vocal competition in Geneva. He had appeared onstage in zarzuela performances in Madrid, in 1954, but he always gave the date of his formal operatic debut as 1956, when he sang the Duke in a Cairo performance of ”Rigoletto.” The Cairo engagement also included Mr. Kraus’s only performance as Cavaradossi.

In the same year as his Cairo debut, Kraus was engaged by the Teatro La Fenice for performances of ”La Traviata” with Renata Scotto. In 1958 he sang with Maria Callas in the Lisbon performances of ”La Traviata,” which quickly became legendary among collectors of pirated recordings of live opera performances. Debuts followed at Covent Garden (as Edgardo in ”Lucia di Lammermoor”) in 1959 and at La Scala (Elvino in ”La Sonnambula”) in 1960.

Kraus’s first appearance in the United States was as Nemorino at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1962, and in 1966 he made his Met debut as the Duke. Other roles he has sung at the Met include Don Ottavio in ”Don Giovanni,” Ernesto in ”Don Pasquale” and the title role in ”Faust,” as well as Werther, Alfredo, the Duke and Nemorino.

As a teacher, Kraus gave master classes at the Accademia Musicale Chighiana, in Siena, Italy, as well as at the Juilliard School, at Covent Garden, and in Madrid and Rome. He returned frequently to his birthplace, Las Palmas — where a concert hall is named for him — to preside over the final rounds of the biennial Alfredo Kraus International Competition, a vocal contest established in 1990 by the Orquesta Filharmonica de Gran Canaria.

Although he never received the kind of popular acclaim accorded Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo, Kraus had a tremendous following among opera connoisseurs. In particular he was admired for his bright, trim timbre, his distinctive phrasing and an assured, self-possessed acting style. In his performances in signature roles like the Duke in ”Rigoletto,” Alfredo in ”La Traviata,” Nemorino in ”L’Elisir d’Amore” or the title role in ”Werther,” Mr. Kraus avoided empty display, preferring to use a composers’ demand for virtuosity as an emotional element, intrinsic to the character he was creating.

Kraus’s career was also an object lesson in how a singer might preserve his voice, despite the temptations to sing too often and too loud or to take on unsuitable roles. It was not for a lack of offers that he did not sing such bread-and-butter roles as Cavaradossi in ”Tosca” or Pinkerton in ”Madama Butterfly.” He learned those roles, and he said that he gave single performances of them early in his career. But he decided that his voice would last longer and remain fresher if he confined himself to the lyric roles of the bel canto repertory. Indeed, he was able to produce his high D, at full power and with a lovely ring, well into his 60’s.