Prince of Song sings for a Canary: Phil Davison on a controversial tenor entering the Spanish election campaign

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The Independent Online
IF YOU saw the inaugural ceremony of the Olympic Games last summer, Alfredo Kraus was the tenor who sang the Olympic Hymn. He is known in Spain as 'The Prince of Song'. If you are not an opera buff, he was the one who was not Placido Domingo or Jose Carreras or Monserrat Caballe.

Now Mr Kraus, 66, has became the latest personality to launch into Spain's summer operetta, entitled General Election campaign, 6 June 1992.

If he was always a controversial figure, his announcement yesterday did nothing to harm that reputation. He is, at least symbolically, running for his homeland, or home island, Gran Canaria, a favourite destination for many Britons.

'My island has been turned into a Third World country,' he protested. 'I don't want to be a member of parliament. My idea is simply a romantic, quixotic one.'

Since he proposes independence for Gran Canaria from the rest of the Canaries, namely Tenerife, 'quixotic' seemed as accurate an adjective as any.

If you are confused, you are in good company. Few Spaniards know the difference. But for the record, the Canary Islands - all seven - formally represent a single 'autonomous community', or one of Spain's 17 regions. But the islands themselves are split between two constituencies - Las Palmas, with three islands including Lanzarote, and Tenerife, with the other four islands.

Mr Kraus said the Tenerife group had increasingly taken over leadership, isolating Gran Canaria and the two smaller islands with which it is linked. He said the European Community had been bad news for his island and proposed that it should separate from the Tenerife group, although tactfully implying that did not mean a split with Spain.

Mr Kraus's announcement of a political candidacy was the latest in a series that began last week when the Socialist Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, 'signed up' the country's best- known anti-mafia judge, Baltasar Garzon.

The tenor had already intimated his intention before one of his operatic arch-rivals, Monserrat Caballe, said earlier this week she would support the main regional Catalan

Party, CiU.

Like Ms Caballe, Mr Kraus said yesterday he did not expect to win a parliamentary seat but was making a symbolic gesture to support his party. Both singers placed themselves at the foot of their parties' lists, meaning they were unlikely to win a seat in the Congress in Madrid.

Mr Kraus was born in Las Palmas, the capital of the Canary Islands, which form part of Spain and lie way south-west of the Iberian peninsula and off the African coast.

Throughout his career he has been regarded as a loner. Last year, when he took the stage in Barcelona for the Olympics' inaugural ceremony, the rest of the world may have been shedding tears of emotion. But those in the know were praying that his long- standing conflict with the rest of the cast would not result in a worldwide embarrassment on live television.

Jose Carreras, a Catalan, had at first refused to give Mr Kraus a role in the opening Olympic ceremony. Eventually, however, he had to back down. Mr Kraus had strongly criticised the idea of such joint appearances as 'part of a bunch of clowns' but seemed happy enough to join in when he was finally asked.

Nevertheless, those in the know, when watching the inaugural ceremony, said they had no idea how such a massive clash of egos and regionalism would turn out 'live' before the world.

Announcing his candidacy yesterday for the Gran Canaria Party (PGC), Mr Kraus said he was in favour of independence for the island of Gran Canaria from the nearby island of Tenerife. But he did not suggest independence from Spain.

Although Las Palmas is the official capital of all the Canary Islands, the local capital of the island of Tenerife, Santa Cruz, has become better known in recent years.

Mr Kraus complained that the nationally ruling Socialist Party had taken over Santa Cruz as its regional headquarters, delegating Las Palmas and the island of Gran Canaria to 'Third World status.'