He doesn’t look – and doesn’t sound – it, but when this was filmed, Kraus was approaching his 68th birthday. Scarcely a tenor of earlier times was singing in public at that age, or if singing at all then not half so well. His voice is rather more full-bodied than in younger days, the tone still pure, the phrases well bound, the movement supple, the famous high notes gleaming bright. Yet we are aware that this is a voice which has aged, wonderfully well to be sure, but perceptibly nonetheless. In Werther’s song the high A sharp, never easy, comes with an effort (a climb in the first verse, more power than resonance in the second). Occasionally there’s a slight downwards pull in pitch and the vibrancy slackens.
A dignified presence, he is not a singer from whom much is to be gained in the watching: his features are not expressive. Nor did his way of singing these arias from his favourite roles develop notably with the years: there isn’t a special late-period enrichment. It’s good that a record, aural and visual, such as this should exist, but we do better to return to the sound recordings which captured his art in its prime.
And really this sort of programme should have vanished from our concert halls years ago. It makes no musical sense: an overture or an intermezzo followed by an aria that has nothing to do with it, and so on throughout the whole evening. And nothing in it which is the least novel to the singer or the audience. The occasion is the 150th anniversary of the orchestra, but there is no challenge in the programme and no festal energy in the playing, their conductor, José Collado, exercising himself to the maximum physically but settling for slowish speeds and an effect which seems hardly commensurate with the manifest effort.