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.