Opera Scotland

Otakar Kraus Suggest updates

Born Prague, 10 December 1909.

Died London, 28 July 1980.

Czech, naturalised British, baritone.

Otakar Kraus played an important role in opera in Britain during the post-war decades. An excellent singing actor, he created parts in several important works and spent twenty years as a leading member of the Covent Garden company. Kraus was a highly influential teacher, his students including David Hillman, Robert Lloyd, Gwynne Howell, Barry Mora, John Tomlinson and Geoffrey Moses.

He trained in Prague with Konrad Wallerstein, then Milan (under Fernando Carpi) before making his debut as Amonasro in Brno (1935) and joining the Bratislava company for three seasons (1936-9). After his move to London, his first appearance was in Musorgsky's Sorochintsy Fair at the Savoy in 1940. In 1943 he started touring with the Carl Rosa company, then in 1946 joined the English Opera Group to create the role of Tarquinius in The Rape of Lucretia. Other parts with the company included Mr Gedge in Albert Herring and Lockit in Britten's arrangement of The Beggar's Opera. He worked in Amsterdam at the Netherlands Opera for one season, before joining the Covent Garden company in 1951. He stayed a member until he retired from the Royal Opera in 1973.

His incisive yet lyrical voice made him particularly effective in Wagner, Verdi and Puccini roles. He was outstanding as Scarpia and Iago, and he sang Alberich at Bayreuth (1960-62). His Covent Garden repertoire also included the Mill Foreman in Jenůfa (which he translated) and Rangoni in Boris Godunov. In addition to creating Tarquinius, he also appeared as Nick Shadow in the first performances of The Rake's Progress  (Venice 1951, also La Scala and Glyndebourne, though not in Edinburgh). Later, at Covent Garden, he created Diomede (Troilus and Cressida 1954) and King Fisher (The Midsummer Marriage 1955).

He also worked in operetta, and can be heard on the classic Walter Legge 1953 recordings of The Merry Widow (Cascada) and The Land of Smiles (Tschang).

Main sources: New Grove Dictionary of Opera; Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera.

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