Born Alfredo José María del Carmen Kraus Trujillo in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on 24 November 1927, Alfredo Kraus was the second child of Otto Kraus Polensky, from Austria, and Josefina Trujillo Mujica, 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 joined the choir of his primary school, Colegio del Corazón de María / Claret. As an adolescent he took classes from María Suárez Fiol de León and at 17 he joined the Sociedad Filarmónica choir, later moving on to the Coral Polifónica de Las Palmas.
Following his father’s wishes, Alfredo Kraus studied Technical Industrial Engineering and graduated in 1950, although that did not put an end to his vocal training, which he pursued in Barcelona with Gali Markoff, in Valencia with Francisco Andrés, and especially in Milan, with Mercedes Llopart, his most influential singing teacher. In 1955 he was a prize winner at the XX Geneva International Competition and shortly afterwards signed his first contract with the Opera of Cairo, where he made his début with Rigoletto and Tosca. In 1958, performing in La Traviata opposite Maria Callas at Lisbon’s Sao Carlos Theatre, Kraus continued on a brilliant career path, performing at the world’s major theatres and concert halls. His popularity resulted in two roles in Spanish full feature films in 1959 and 1960: Gayarre and El Vagabundo y la Estrella. Kraus’ reviews, extensive recordings, ample 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 the right repertoire for his voice, and by developing superlative technique, he continued 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, ranging from classical chamber pieces to popular songs, was complemented by an ample 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 Auditorium of Music, in Madrid, and received a warm tribute in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. 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 beloved 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, holding positions as Chair at the Madrid School of Singing (since 1981), Director of the Alfredo Kraus Chair at the National Conservatory of Music, Liceu Grand Theatre, Barcelona (since 1987) and teacher at the Alfredo Kraus Vocal Technique Studies Centre, Perugia (also since 1987). He gave master classes around the world at venues including New York’s Juilliard School and the Opera di Rome, and was Chair of Singing at Madrid’s Queen Sofía School of Music, which named the chair after him in 1999. The name of Alfredo Kraus also appears in the Chair of Singing at Barcelona Liceu Conservatory, a department at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Opera Season in the city of his birth and the auditorium opened by the tenor in 1997 with Prince Felipe of Spain.
One of his most cherished legacies was the creation of the Concurso Internacional de Canto Alfredo Kraus in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a project that came to fruition in 1990 with the first competition and continued until the the fifth event, in 1999, held posthumously. Revived in 2017 with the sixth competition, it continues in 2019 with the holding of the seventh competition. Since 2003, a concert in tribute to the tenor, Concierto Homenaje Alfredo Kraus, has been held in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to commemorate his birth.
Alfredo Kraus received countless awards and distinctions throughout his career and around the world, 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 Canary Islands: Canary Islands 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 at the age of 71 in Boadilla del Monte (Madrid) on 10 September 1999. Since 2009 his remains and those of his wife lie in the Cemetery of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, alongside other illustrious figures of the city and the island of their birth.
Two other auditoriums have been named after Alfredo Kraus, in Majadahonda (Madrid) and Aspe (Alicante), as well as two cultural centres, in Mirasierra-Fuencarral (El Pardo, Madrid) and Tejeda (Gran Canaria). Three city squares (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Bilbao and Almería), an avenue (Seville) and a pedestrian crossing (Lanzarote) carry his name. Eighteen streets throughout Spain have been named after him: 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), Córdoba, Jaén, Bailén (Jaén), Alcalá de Guadaíra and Dos Hermanas (Seville), San Fulgencio and Torrevieja (Alicante), Vélez (Málaga) and Mérida (Badajoz). A primary school in Lomo Los Frailes (Tamaraceite, Gran Canaria) and the Aula Cultural (cultural department) of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria are named after him. Five music associations have also preserved the memory of the Gran Canarian tenor, in Aspe, Bilbao, Buenos Aires, Gijón, Oviedo and Seville.