Although Kraus (real name Alfredo Kraus Trujillo) began piano lessons at the age of four, sang in a church choir at eight and studied music and opera together with his older brother, baritone Francisco Kraus Trujillo, his father (a naturalised Austrian) insisted that Alfredo prepare for a career in the sciences. He therefore studied for a degree in industrial engineering, but after graduating began to devote himself increasingly to singing, studying in Barcelona with Gali Markoff, in Valencia with Francisco Andres and finally in Milan with Mercedes Llopart, a soprano popular in Italy and Spain during the 1920s and 1930s.
When Kraus was twenty-eight he won first prize at the Geneva Singing Competition. A representative of the Cairo Opera, who was present at the auditions, offered him the role of the Duke of Mantua / Rigoletto, and with this he made his professional operatic debut at the Cairo Opera in 1956 (although from 1954 he had sung in zarzuela in Madrid and Barcelona).
Kraus came to wider attention when he sang Alfredo / La traviata opposite Maria Callas in Lisbon during 1958 (a performance that has become famous on record). International appearances now proliferated: at the Royal Opera House, London in 1959 as Edgardo / Lucia di Lammermoor with Joan Sutherland; at La Scala, Milan the following year as Elvino / La sonnambula; at the Rome Opera in 1961 (Alfredo again, and the premiere of Renzo Rossellini’s opera Uno sguardo dal ponte); and at the Vienna State Opera in 1965, as Edgardo.
In America Kraus first sang in 1962, as Nemorino / L’elisir d’amore with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, with whom he was to sustain a long relationship. His debut with the Metropolitan Opera, New York came in 1966, as the Duke of Mantua. Later roles at the Met, where Kraus was to appear frequently, included Edgardo, Nemorino, Alfredo, Don Ottavio / Don Giovanni, Ernesto / Don Pasquale, Tonio / La Fille du Régiment and the title roles of Massenet’s Werther, Gounod’s Faust and Roméo et Juliette.
As Don Ottavio, with Karajan conducting, Kraus appeared at the Salzburg Festival in 1968 and 1969. He sang frequently in Spain, at Barcelona and Madrid, and in South America, at Buenos Aires, Caracas, Santiago and Rio de Janeiro.
By limiting the number of his annual appearances to around fifty and by restricting his repertoire to roles which did not strain his voice, Kraus succeeded in remaining active internationally almost to the end of the twentieth century. Having returned to London as the Duke in 1974, he appeared there again in the title role of Les Contes d’Hoffmann in 1991; and took part in the opening both of the Bastille Opera House in Paris in 1989 and the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992. His farewell appearance at the Met was in 1994 as the Duke of Mantua; and as late as 1996 he sang Edgardo in Berlin and Werther in Naples and Zürich.
Kraus ran his own record company, Carillon, with which he recorded many zarzuelas, and starred in a film based on the life of the famous Spanish tenor Juliàn Gayarre. He was also active as a teacher. His death, from pancreatic cancer, came two years after that of his wife, a bereavement which affected him deeply.
Considered the finest lyric tenor of his generation, Kraus was noted for his elegant and stylish singing throughout the full tenor register and for his handsome stage presence. This made him an ideal interpreter of his chosen repertoire, which also included Almaviva / Il barbiere di Siviglia, Ferrando / Così fan tutte, Des Grieux / Manon and Fenton / Falstaff.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).