Ernst Kraus (1863-1941) was born Ferdinand Ernst Konrad Hermann Schmidtner to a young unwed mother in Erlangen. Raised in humble circumstances, the young man changed his surname to Kraus upon the death of his mother in 1881. He trained as a brewer and was seemingly happy brewing and selling beer but friends encouraged him to pursue his singing talents. Around 1890, Kraus entered a Munich vocal competition and greatly impressed the judges. He was awarded a scholarship, which allowed him to study with German soprano Anna Shimon-Regan. At the relatively late age of thirty, he made his debut in Mannheim as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte in 1893. He remained with the Hoftheater in Mannheim for the next three seasons, during which time he debuted in Berlin as Lohengrin. Kraus made his first North American appearances with the Damrosch Opera Company in 1896. Appearances at Bayreuth and Covent Garden followed, mainly in the Wagnerian repertoire.
Kraus made his debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera as Siegmund in Die Walküre on November 25, 1903. During the 1903/1904 season at the MET, Kraus sang thirty-five performances of Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Tristan und Isolde, Götterdämmerung, Siegfried and his only non-Wagner role with the company, Tamino in Die Zauberflöte. However, the tenor failed to make a lasting impression and was not invited to come back for subsequent seasons. Taking over the Wagnerian mantel left vacant with the departure of Jean de Rezske was a daunting task and Kraus didn’t make the grade in the opinion of many critics. Of his March 1, 1904 Tristan, a Philadelphia critic wrote, “Krauss (sic) has sung Tristan, on occasion, indifferently well, but his performance last night was a triumph of badness. No one who did not hear the love duet can imagine how badly it can be sung.” The reviewer went on to describe Kraus as, “…simply shocking, rough, tuneless, unintelligent, unmusical, wooden…”. In the tenor’s defense, he was ill during the performance and was compelled to withdraw after the second act. Regardless, Kraus wrapped up his commitments in New York in April and returned to Europe, never to set foot in the U.S. again.
Berlin was Kraus’ artistic home for the majority of his career and he remained there as a regular company member for over a quarter century. During his tenure at the Berlin Hofoper, Kraus was given the opportunity to sing a variety of roles including Herod in Salome, Florestan in Fidelio and the title role in Smetana’s Dalibor. He continued to give guest appearances during his years with Berlin Hofoper, including performances in Munich, Frankfurt, Dresden, Zurich, Vienna, Graz, Prague, Riga, Paris, Brussels and Milan. Kraus retired for the stage at the end of the 1923/24 season at the age of sixty and devoted his career to teaching. He passed away in Walchstadt in 1941.
In this recording, Kraus joins forces with Czech soprano Emmy Destinn (1878-1930) for the love duet "Das süsse Lied verhallt" from Wagner's Lohengrin. This was recorded in Berlin for G&T in 1907.