Alfredo Kraus | Biography

Alfredo Kraus was born in Las Palmas on 24 November 1927 and baptised Alfredo José María del Carmen Kraus Trujillo. He was the second of the four children of Otto Kraus Polensky, from Vienna, and Josefina Trujillo Mujica, from Las Palmas. His parents introduced him to music at an early age and he began to study piano when he was four. At the age of eight, he joined the children’s choir of his primary school, Colegio del Corazón de María (now the Claret). When he reached adolescence, his brother Francisco enrolled him in classes with María Suárez Fiol de León, his first singing teacher. At 17, the young Alfredo joined the choir of the Sociedad Filarmónica de Las Palmas and the Coral Polifónica de Las Palmas.

Following his father’s wishes, Alfredo Kraus studied Technical Industrial Engineering in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, graduating in 1950. After completing his university studies, he continued his vocal training away from Gran Canaria, firstly in Barcelona, with Russian mezzo-soprano Gali Markoff, and later in Valencia, with tenor Francisco Andrés. He continued to train in Milan, with Catalonian soprano Mercedes Llopart, his most influential singing teacher. In 1955, Kraus won a prize at the XVI Geneva International Music Competition. Shortly afterwards, he signed his first professional contract with the Opera of Cairo, where he made his début in January 1956 in Rigoletto and Tosca. After successfully performing at theatres in France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, Kraus had his first performance in Portugal in 1958, with the legendary production of La Traviata, sharing the stage with Maria Callas. Alfredo Kraus continued on a brilliant career path, performing until 1999 at the world’s major theatres and concert halls. His popularity resulted in two roles in Spanish full feature films, Gayarre and El Vagabundo y la Estrella

Alfredo Kraus’ reviews, recordings, audio and video material and numerous admirers around the world bear witness to his vocal mastery. With his keen intelligence and obsessive daily study, Alfredo Kraus was able to choose and maintain an appropriate repertoire which, in addition to mastering superlative technique, allowed him to continue singing past the age of 70.

Considered one of the greatest light lyric tenors of the second half of the 20th century, Kraus had a repertoire that focused mainly on bel canto. His memorable performances include Don Giovanni, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, La Sonnambula, I Puritani, L’Elisir d’amore, Don Pasquale, Lucrezia Borgia, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Favorita, La Fille du Régiment, Linda di Chamounix, Rigoletto, La Traviata and Falstaff. He also tackled late 19th century French opera, in which he was unsurpassed in works such as Faust, Werther, Manon, Roméo et Juliette, Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Lakmé and Les Contes d’Hoffmann. His extensive concert and recital repertoire, ranging from classical chamber pieces to popular songs, was complemented by an ample Zarzuela repertoire. Kraus made up for his infrequent stage performances of this genre with many studio recordings of Zarzuela and concert performances of romances.

In 1991, Alfredo Kraus celebrated35 years in his profession with a recital in the National Auditorium of Music, in Madrid, and received a warm tribute in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. In January 1996, to mark 40 years as a professional singer, Alfredo Kraus went on a two-year international tour, performing on major stages. The following year, he took a nine-month break from the stage after the death of his beloved wife and faithful companion throughout his career, Rosa Ley Bird.

Alongside his artistic activity, Alfredo Kraus taught extensively after 1980, passing on his experience to younger generations. From that time, he alternated his performances with teaching. He was Chair of the Superior School of Singing, Madrid, and director of the Alfredo Kraus Chair at the National Conservatory of Music, Liceu Grand Theatre, Barcelona and the Ramón Areces Chair of Singing at Madrid’s Queen Sofía School of Music. After teaching at the Alfredo Kraus Vocal Technique Studies Centre, Perugia, Kraus gave master classes in Madrid, Barcelona, Santander, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Milan, Rome, Turin, Siena, London, Chicago and New York.

One of his most cherished projects was theConcurso Internacional de Canto Alfredo Kraus, inLas Palmas de Gran Canaria, which he organised from 1990 to 1999. After his death, the biennial event restarted in 2017 with the sixth competition, followed by the 2019 event and the upcoming 2021 competition.

Throughout his career, Alfredo Kraus received numerous distinctions and awards, including Grand Cross of the Order of Alfonso X the Wise; Order of Isabella the Catholic, Commander by Number; Knight of the French Legion of Honour; Austrian Grand Cross of Honour for Science and Art; Enrico Caruso Prize, Italy; Metropolitan Opera House Prize, New York; and the title of Kammersänger from the Opera of Vienna. He also received awards in the islands of his birth, including Canary Islands Gold Medal; distinction as Favourite Son of the City of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria; the Can de Plata and Can de Oro Awards for the Arts, from the Cabildo Insular de Gran Canaria; and the Canary Islands Fine Arts and Performance Prize.

Gran Canaria’s foremost artistic ambassador of the second half of the 20th century, Alfredo Kraus died at the age of 71 in Boadilla del Monte (Madrid) on 10 September 1999. In 2009, his remains were laid to rest alongside those of his wife in the Pantheon of the Illustrious in the Cemetery of Vegueta, on the island where they were born.

During his extensive career, Alfredo Kraus visited 21 countries, performing in opera, concerts or recitals in 108 cities: SPAIN (Seville, Madrid, La Coruña, San Sebastián, Bilbao, Oviedo, Barcelona, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Vigo, Gijón, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Puerto de Pollensa, Palma de Mallorca, Málaga, Aspe, Monóvar, Alicante, Cadiz, Zaragoza, Valencia, Arrecife and Haría (Lanzarote), Granada, Santander, Albacete, Santa Cruz de la Palma, Badajoz, Cordova, Mérida, Santiago de Compostela, Murcia, Salamanca, Jerez de la Frontera, Úbeda and Peralada); PORTUGAL (Lisbon); ANDORRA (Andorra la Vella); FRANCE (Cannes, Marseille, Paris, Orange, Toulouse); BELGIUM (Brussels); MONACO (Monte Carlo); ITALY (Venice, Turin, Trieste, Modena, Palermo, Como, Reggio Emilia, Genova, Livorno, Rovigo, Rome, Naples, Parma, Milan, Bergamo, Florence, Bologna, Piacenza, Mantua, Pesaro, Catania, Brescia, Bari, Lecce, Macerata, Cagliari, Busseto); GERMANY (Wiesbaden, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich, Cologne, Berlin); AUSTRIA (Vienna, Salzburg); SWITZERLAND (Geneva, Zurich, Lugano); UNITED KINGDOM (London, Edinburgh, Liverpool); RUSSIA (Moscow); EGYPT (El Cairo); SOUTH AFRICA (Pretoria); JAPAN (Tokyo); UNITED STATES (Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, Sacramento, Hartford, Dallas, Montclair, New Brunswick, Stanhope, Pennsauken (New Jersey), Washington, San Juan (Puerto Rico)); MEXICO (Mexico City); VENEZUELA (Caracas); CHILE (Santiago de Chile), PERU (Lima) and ARGENTINA (Buenos Aires and Rosario).

Three auditoriums, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Majadahonda (Madrid) and Aspe (Alicante), and two cultural centres, in Mirasierra-Fuencarral (El Pardo, Madrid) and Tejeda (Gran Canaria) have been named after Alfredo Kraus. A primary school in Lomo Los Frailes (Tamaraceite, Gran Canaria), the Chair of singing at Barcelona’s Liceo Conservatory, and the Aula Cultural (cultural department) of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria are also named after him. In 2000, the Opera Season in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, organised by Amigos Canarios de la Ópera, took the name Alfredo Kraus, the same year that the Spanish postal service highlighted his career with a stamp in its Personajes Populares (Popular Figures) series.

Three city squares (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Bilbao and Almería), an avenue (Seville) and a pedestrian crossing (Arrecife, Lanzarote) carry the name of Alfredo Kraus. Eighteen streets throughout Spain have been named after Alfred Kraus: in Carrizal de Ingenio and San Bartolomé de Tirajana (Gran Canaria), San Cristóbal de la Laguna and Los Llanos de Aridane (Tenerife), La Pineda (Tarragona), Santander, Zaragoza, Illescas and Navahermosa (Toledo), Cordova, Jaén, Bailén (Jaén), Alcalá de Guadaíra and Dos Hermanas (Seville), San Fulgencio and Torrevieja (Alicante), Vélez (Málaga) and Mérida (Badajoz). Five Associations have preserved the memory of Kraus, in Aspe, Bilbao, Buenos Aires, Gijón, Oviedo and Seville.

Every 24 November since 2003, the Fundación Teatro Auditorio in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria has held its Tribute to Alfredo Kraus, a musical event to commemorate the day the illustrious Gran Canarian tenor was born.