Alfredo Kraus | Biography

Retrato de Alfredo KrausAlfredo Kraus Trujillo was born in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on 24 November 1927, second son of journalist Otto Kraus Polensky, from Austria, and Josefina Trujillo Mújica, from Gran Canaria. His parents introduced him to music at an early age: when he was four he began to study piano and at the age of eight he became a member of his primary school choir, Coro del Colegio Corazón de María. As a teenager he took classes from María Suárez Fiol de León and at 16 he joined the Philharmonic Society Choir, later moving on to local choral society Coral Polifónica de Las Palmas.

Following his father’s wishes, Kraus spent three years studying Technical Engineering, although that did not stop him continuing his vocal training, in Barcelona with Gali Markoff, in Valencia with Francisco Andrés, and especially in Milan, with Mercedes Llopart. In 1956 he was a finalist in the Geneva International Singing Competition, where he signed his first contract for the Opera of Cairo, making his début there with Rigoletto and Tosca. In 1958, performing in La Traviata opposite Maria Callas at Lisbon’s Sao Carlos Theatre, Alfredo Kraus began a brilliant career appearing at the world’s most important theatres and concert halls. His popularity resulted in two roles in full feature films in 1959 and 1960: Gayarre and El Vagabundo y la Estrella. The extensive recordings he released bear witness to his vocal mastery.

With his keen intelligence and insistence on daily study, Alfredo Kraus knew how to choose an appropriate repertoire for his voice, and by developing a superlative technique, was able to sing in full possession of his vocal resources 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, in particular his memorable performances of Don Giovanni, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, La Sonnambula, I Puritani, L’Elisir d’amore, Don Pasquale, Lucrezia Borgia, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Favorite, La Fille du Régiment, Linda di Chamounix, Rigoletto, La Traviata and Falstaff, and in late 19th century French opera, in which he was unsurpassed in Faust, Werther, Manon, Roméo et Juliette, Les Pêcheurs de perles, Lakmé and Les Contes d’Hoffmann. His extensive concert repertoire, which included classical chamber pieces andpopular songs, was complemented by a broad repertoire of zarzuela, a genre he not only performed on stage and recorded in the studio, but also disseminated in concerts around the world.

In 1991, Alfredo Kraus celebrated 35 years in his profession with a recital in the National Music Auditorium, in Madrid, and received a tribute in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. In the same year he was awarded the Prince of Asturias Art Prize, which he shared with six other Spanish opera singers. In January 1996, for the celebration of 40 years in his profession, Kraus began a two-year tour performing on the world’s greatest opera stages. The following year, he took a nine-month break from the stage after the death of his wife and faithful companion throughout his career, Rosa Ley Bird.

Determined to pass his knowledge on to younger generations, in his final years Alfredo Kraus alternated performing with teaching, giving master classes around the world and holding a Chair in singing at the Queen Sofía School of Music, in Madrid. In 1999 the Chair was named after him. The name Alfredo Kraus also appears in the Chair of Singing at Barcelona Liceu Conservatory, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Conservatory, the Opera Season in the city of his birth, streets and squares across Spain, and the auditorium he opened in 1997 with Prince Felipe of Spain.

Alfredo Kraus received many awards and distinctions throughout his career, including the 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 received a number of awards from the Canary Islands: the Gold Medal, distinction as Favourite Son of the City of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and the Canary Islands Fine Arts and Performance Prize. Gran Canaria’s artistic ambassador par excellence, Alfredo Kraus died in Madrid on 10 September 1999.

The international singing competition that bears the tenor’s name, Concurso Internacional de Canto Alfredo Kraus, held in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and one of Kraus’ most cherished aspirations, became a reality in 1990 with the first competition and continued until 1999, when it was held posthumously. The event was revived for the sixth competition, in 2017, at the express wishes and on the initiative of the Fundación Internacional Alfredo Kraus (chaired by the tenor’s daughter, Rosa Kraus Ley) and Gran Canaria Island Council, which is joined by other institutions in tribute to this illustrious Gran Canarian and his universal legacy.