Sunday, July 25, 2010
Alfredo Kraus: The Personification of Elegance
Alfredo Kraus was born in 1927 in Spain's Canary Islands, and began his musical studies as a child, beginning piano at 4 years of age. He was a good and highly intelligent student of music, and developed disciplined habits at a young age which stayed with him throughout his life. He would, during his long career, be consistently praised for his extremely refined musicianship. A handsome man, in the debonair 1930's matinee-idol mold, he had an aristocratic bearing that bespoke the refinements of earlier centuries. All these qualities made it possible for him to have a superb career, and he did.
Kraus' debut was in 1956, at 29 years of age, in Cairo, portraying the Duke in Rigoletto, which was to become one of his signature roles, along with Werther, Nemorino, Arturo, and Faust. (His French was good, and he was very popular in the French repertoire.] In 1958 he debuted in Lisbon, and then, in quick succession, London, Milan, Chicago and New York, and then to world wide fame. There were no scandals in his life, no self-indulgent behavior, and no health crises. He was a model of stability, professionalism and artistic consistency, an extraordinary model for serious artists.
Kraus' voice was highly pitched. The territory around high C and even beyond, held no fears for him. Here he is (at age 59!) singing "Mes Amis," from La Fille du Regiment, a notorious aria whic contains—if you listen to it from the beginning—one B natural, two Bb's and an unbelievable five high C#'s! This aria is long. I recommend you move the radio button forward to 5:10 as soon as you can, and listen from there to the end, which is where the high C# fireworks take place.
Isn't that something! And at 59 years of age, almost unbelievable. He never lost that brilliant top. And the wildly enthusiastic reaction of the audience is a clear indication of the esteem in which he was held. The clarity, consistency and seeming ease of production of those extremely high notes are sure signs of a brilliant singer, very disciplined and in complete control of his voice.
The Duke in Rigoletto was a natural for a distinguished looking man with a high-pitched voice. It was his debut opera and remained a favorite with audiences:
Absolutely perfect bel canto technique, smooth as silk. This vocal production cannot be faulted in any way. It is very traditional, and perfectly adapted to singing tenor in opera. Curiously, given the eternal insistence from most voice teachers about low larynx and extreme diaphragmatic support, watching Kraus makes it clear that his larynx is often high, and much of his breathing is clavicular. It requires a very straight posture, which Kraus had. This may seem like heresy, in the era of belting, but in fact it is for some voices and styles of singing a time honored technique which Gigli also employed. Essentially, it is the way boy sopranos or coloratura sopranos sing. This is not to say he does not support, only that it is selective and integrated into a narrower, higher sound, less dependent on deep resonances.
Finally, the role which most consider Kraus to have owned: Werther. Here is one of the earlier arias in the opera, "O nature, pleine de grâce!"
It is very, very nice to reflect upon the fact that bel canto singing, with its elegance, beauty, and stylistic refinements, did not in fact die. It lived in Kraus,and lives in others and—given the very large number of aficionados who considered his art to be perfection itself—it is not going to leave us. It will come back, because the thirst is there.
at 1:07 PM