Alfredo Kraus


24 September 1927 -
10 September 1999

Alfredo Kraus, whose death was announced yesterday, maintained a highly distinctive presence on the international opera circuit for over forty years. The Duke in Rigoletto (Cairo 1956) was the first of many appearances in the major opera houses of the world, and he was particularly associated outside Spain with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and La Scala Milan, as well as the Metropolitan in New York, Chicago and Dallas.

"Stylish" and "elegant" are perhaps the adjectives most often associated with Kraus the musician, but any suspicion they may convey of over-sophistication or bloodlessness would be very far from the truth. Kraus could be as ardent, warm-toned and passionate as any rival in either of the two generations that his career spanned. In the bel canto roles in which he specialised he had no peer for intelligence, musicality and "line", that high mystery of the art that conceals art without any suspicion of artifice.

Like many of the very greatest singers, Kraus did not possess an unduly large voice, though it was distinctively burnished and bright, and impeccably projected. He was something of a late starter, graduating as an industrial engineer before turning to singing, and perhaps this - combined with regular holidays at his home in the Canary Islands, near his birthplace of Las Palmas, and a careful choice of repertoire - extended his career long beyond any of his contemporaries.

In Mozart, notably as Ferrando in Cosí Fan Tutte; in Donizetti and Bellini; and as the Duke in Rigoletto and Alfredo in La Traviata - which he sang opposite Callas - Kraus was unrivalled. Perhaps his most celebrated operatic role was Massenet's Werther, which perfectly suited his fastidious musical temperament and patrician stage personality.

As with many other great Spanish singers of the century, the zarzuela was a central pillar of his artistic life. He regularly sang many of the great roles of the repertoire on stage; and the singer who notoriously avoided the recording studios for mainstream opera has left a very substantial legacy of zarzuela recordings. He recorded zarzuela for his own Carillon label, Zafiro, EMI-Hispavox and Auvidis Valois; and these recordings provide a vocal portrait of Kraus from the late 1950's through to his very last CD, the demanding heroic role of Jorge in Arrieta's Marina, recently issued by Auvidis and reviewed elsewhere on this site.

His early work with Pablo Sorozábal unquestionably gave us some of his most satisfying singing on disk, with the 1958 sets of La tabernera del puerto and Black, el payaso outstanding. If the zarzuela recordings for his own label in the 1960's and early 70's sound frustratingly blatant, due in part to coarse recording quality and upfront vocal balance, some of them - such as Serrano's La Dolorosa - capture him at the undoubted peak of his vocal powers.

Fortunately, the 1990's recordings for Auvidis have a mellow, sunset glow that makes for a most pleasurable souvenir of his musicianly finesse, wit and vocal steel. Indeed, of the three recordings he made of Fernando in Doña Francisquita the 1993 Auvidis recording with Maria Bayo is much the most dramatically involving and touchingly sung. The commercial video of the Barcelona Teatro Liceo production of Vives' work from the 1980's likewise provides a reminder of Kraus's imperious stage presence and immaculate vocal standards. He will be mourned as much by aficionados of zarzuela as by his many operatic admirers around the world.

© Christopher Webber 1999

A brief shortlist of Alfredo Kraus in zarzuela:

Doña Francisquita (Vives)
Auvidis Valois V 4710

La tabernera del puerto (Sorozábal)
EMI-Hispavox 7 67325 2

Black, el payaso (Sorozábal)
EMI-Hispavox 7 674431 2

Katiuska (Sorozábal)
EMI-Hispavox 7 67330 2

La dolorosa (Serrano)
Carillon cxal 30

La tempestad (Chapí)
Carillon cal 3

Alfredo Kraus -
Romanzas y dúos de zarzuela
EMI-Hispavox 7 62756 2

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