Cher Public

Johan Botha 1965-2016

bothaThe dramatic tenor died this morning in Vienna. He was 51. [New York Times]

  • A tragic surprise to get the news--ten months ago he was singing the difficult role of Tannhauser at the MET like a champ.

  • RD

    This is sad indeed. I remember a Tannhäuser sung without any effort -- of how many tenors one could say something like this? -- and I never heard anyone sing the tenor solos in Das Lied von der Erde as he used to do: his voice just pierced through the loud orchestra without any strain.

  • Sirotah

    Sorry to learn of this news. May he rest in peace. Last night’s Walküre Act I in concert, in Berlin, was a success. Runnicles, Harteros, Zeppenfeld and Seiffert. Zeppenfeld was the highlight of the night with his booming black bass. Harteros was fine but I missed a little more experience which may come as she sings the role more and more later on. Seiffert sang well for his age but made a couple of big, noticeable mistakes: an embarrassing missed entrance and an early entrance. It was grating not knowing if he was going to make it. The Wälse(n) were lengthy and robust. Who would’ve guessed!

    • PCally

      Harteros has already cancelled her first staged run of the role. So that experience may never come.

      • Sirotah

        Yes I read earlier. She seemed comfortable with Sieglinde’s music in Act I, though.

  • Brackweaver

    Such a perfunctory obit from the New York Times.

    • H_Badger

      Surely it will be expanded once more details are apparent. I hope. So sad.

      • In defense of the Times, this line follows the last line of its obit that’s on line:
        “A more complete obituary will appear soon.”

    • Cicciabella

      Gorgeous. Such effortless voice production and beautiful clarion sound. Rest in painless peace, Maestro Botha.

  • rhinestonecowgirl

    A very interesting obit from the Telegraph. He packed a lot into his 51 years. R.I.P.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    So sorry to hear this.

  • John L

    Wow! Did anyone hear of reports that he was ill or had to cancel appearances? Rather young. Did he have cardiac issues or something?

    • DonCarloFanatic

      Yes, he’d been ill for a while. Cancer, one paper has reported.

    • He had liver cancer and suffered quite a bit. The invaluable Coloraturafan has the Salzburg Parsifal from last summer on his WordPress site:…/johan-botha-parsifal…/

      This is a phenomenal performance, fabulously conducted by Thielemann who raised the orchestra pit and has the orchestra playing with great delicacy. Botha, unflatteringly costumed (to put it mildly), and stuck in a really bizarre production sings gloriously. He was an amazing Walther in Meistersinger sounding at the end in the Met as though he could do the uncut version all over again despite the loud conductor and difficult tessitura of the role (I saw seven). I first saw him in the Land of Smiles in Vienna (1996?) in an astounding getup as Prince Sou-Chong but he sang like a golden ager. I’d say he fought Otello to a draw and probably didn’t quite have the timbre for Radames or the temperament for Canio but I saw quite a wonderful Calaf in Salzburg and he sang Florestan and Siegmund compellingly and with feeling. I think he evolved as a person from a very conservative background to a very human and empathetic man. Death is all around and we’ll all get there — although it’s taking some scum on the opera lists too long and of course a vicious trout like Phyllis Schafly went on to 92, was in good enough shape to endorse Trump publicly (I saw that and her only concession to age was two “minders” to keep her steady on her feet) and I assume slipped off quietly without the years of agony she deserved. But at least Botha at 51 possessed a glorious voice, was a fine musician and loved music, and at least touched greatness. Not too many humans can say the same thing.

      • Lorenzo Venezia

        I feel very lucky to have experienced his Sigmund in the festspielhaus last summer, sounding as thought the music were written especially for him.

      • Dave Yaney

        I think the performance on Coloraturafan’s site may be a different performance from the Salzburg 2015 you’re remembering. I haven’t watched much of it yet, but it’s from the Vienna Staatsoper, with Adam Fischer conducting. Botha is Parsifal (without the famous green jacket) and Milling is the Gurnemanz. The rest of the cast is different--Denoke, Volle, Speedo Green, et al.

        A lot there to be enjoyed, anyway…

        • The performance is indeed from Wiener
          Staatsoper. Here are the full credits:

          Sonntag, 5. April 2015 | 17:00 | in
          deutscher Sprache
          44. Aufführung in dieser Inszenierung

          Adam Fischer | Dirigent
          Christine Mielitz | Inszenierung
          Stefan Mayer | Ausstattung
          Thomas Lang | Choreinstudierung

          Michael Volle | Amfortas
          Ryan Speedo Green | Titurel
          Stephen Milling | Gurnemanz
          Johan Botha | Parsifal
          Boaz Daniel | Klingsor
          Angela Denoke | Kundry
          Catherine Trottmann | 1. Knappe
          Hyuna Ko | 2. Knappe
          Jason Bridges | 3. Knappe
          Peter Jelosits | 4. Knappe
          Michael Roider | 1. Gralsritter
          Yevheniy Kapitula | 2. Gralsritter
          Ileana Tonca | 1. Blumenmädchen/1. Gruppe
          Olga Bezsmertna | 2. Blumenmädchen/1. Gruppe
          Margarita Gritskova | 3. Blumenmädchen/1. Gruppe

          Hila Fahima | 1. Blumenmädchen/2. Gruppe
          Hyuna Ko | 2. Blumenmädchen/2. Gruppe
          Suzanne Hendrix | 3. Blumenmädchen/2. Gruppe
          Monika Bohinec | Stimme von oben

          The “really bizarre production” (to put it
          mildly!) is by Christine Mielitz (from 2004; notable for being created specifically for Thomas Quasthof who sang Amfortas), and is being replaced this season with a
          new one in March 2017 by Alvis Hermanis with Chrstopher Ventris, Nina Stemme
          singing her first Kundry, and Semyon Bychkov conducting.

          This 2015 performance was broadcast on Wiener Staatsoper’s Livestream site for free and is still available for free viewing by
          clicking under the Videotèque heading; “Due to the support of the European
          Commission’s ‘Creative Europe’ programme, this On Demand stream can be offered for free.”

      • Kenneth Conway

        “vicious trout”? Indeed. Schafly is rotting, noisome proof of that ancient adage: it is never too soon to speak ill of the evil dead.

      • Bill

        Mrs. J.C. I thoroughly agree about Botha being
        one of the very finest tenors of his generation.
        I too saw him in “The Land of Smiles” at the Volksoper -- it was never a role which required
        stupendous acting, rather a static fellow, but
        the vocal outpourings require a meltingly beautiful voice and that Botha had. I think at his absolute
        finest, he was unsurpassed and two roles which
        truly defined his voice and ease of delivery were
        Apollo in “Daphne” and Bacchus in “Ariadne” both
        with high tessitura -- Botha’s voice just floated out
        miraculously with absolutely no strain -- surely the
        best since King and I think even more free of strain.
        He was a superb Walter, had endless breath control as Lohengrin, and in Tannhaeuser never seemed to
        stagger in the Rome Narration. He was to sing
        his first Tristan in Berlin and after he was ill
        and had to cancel is Spring 2016 engagements managed to come back just briefly for two
        performances with rave reviews, one in Budapest and the other in Germany -- he was expected to
        be singing Calaf in Vienna this week and had to cancel again but it is really a great shock to read
        that he died -- he had a more varied repertoire that one remembers -- singing Florestan, Arrigo in Vespri Siciliana, Don Carlo, Andrea Chenier, Turridu and of course the Kaiser in Die Frau ohne Schatten, Erik Cavaradossi. He lived in Vienna and had sung over 220 perfomances at the Staatsoper which was his main house. Surely he had bookings for the next four years or so which will require a lot of shuffling to find quality singers to replace him in all the operatic centers. I consider his death to be a great loss.

        • Botha had been cancelling a lot in the last
          two or three years, perhaps most notably the Osterfestspiele Salzburg “Otello” on what I was told was very short notice. He was scheduled for only seven performances at Wiener Staatsoper this season (three performances as Calaf – currently being performed with Saturday’s performance to be dedicated to him – followed by four as Radamès later in the month and the beginning of October – no replacement announced to date). He was not on the schedule for Siegmund at Bayreuth 2017 (Christopher Ventris will take over the role), or the recreation of the 1967 von Karajan “Die Walküre” at Osterfestspiele Salzburg 2017 (which has Peter Seiffert).

          • Bill

            Jungfer -- I think most of Botha’s cancellations were in the calendar year 2016, prominently Otello in Salzburg, the Turandot premiere in Vienna. Late in 2015 I do not think he missed any of the Tannhaeuser performances at the Met -- and we were very fortunate to have him for that role as Tannhaeuser had not been done at the Met in quite a few years.

            • chicagoing

              I missed Botha as Otello at LOC in 2013 when he withdrew from the final performances due, as it was reported, to back pain.

        • Luvtennis

          God, I would have loved to have heard his Kaiser. Wow! And his Tristan in a medium-sized house. I wonder if he might have tried Siegfried in concert or on recordings.

          Very sad loss for his family and for us all.

          • There is a bit of his Kaiser on YouTube but I saw this, and truly had a very good time. This production made quite an impression live and I even liked Gergiev (not a fan nor even a fandango). I always enjoyed Gaby. I understand that many couldn’t stand her tuning or lack of same and it WAS sometimes … difficult. But in a bad world I thought she tried hard to be good and sometimes was. Botha was wonderful live in this; the mic makes his lack of an “Italian” feel more obvious and the camera rather emphasizes his physique but he did very well and even does the high C in this last bit of act two. The Emperor Altoum is Robert Tear who also died of cancer after writing two amusing, eccentric, and somewhat naughty books.


            • This is the slice of The Emperor in Frau given in Munich. It’s a production that many loathed but I have to admit to enjoying the video. Considering the deranged libretto, which is far, very, very, FAR from Ibsen, the craziness here doesn’t strike me as all that indefensible. The two ladies are Adrianne Pieczonka as the Empress and the greatest Deborah Polaski as the Nurse — MY role. Botha sounds very beautiful throughout and this does capture that quality.

            • Having posted some of the Frau here is one of my favorite stretches in the opera in that production. It is a bit of act one, scene two and features my sister Elena Pankratova and Wolfgang Koch who I have loved in everything I’ve seen him do, as Barak and his wife.

              This has the glorious D major interlude (scene two, act one) and here it is precisely staged, and in fact includes the initiation of sex between the unhappy couple. The conductor is Kirill Petrenko soon to lead the Berlin Phil. I play this scene at mine electric piano (wearing headphones so I won’t be arrested) and I TAKE the marking of the interlude seriously --“molto sostenuto e cantabile” — VERY MUCH SUNG AND SUSTAINED. I suppose I sentimentalize it but as so many do now Petrenko takes it rather fast it seems to me.

              As for the staging, I remember Birgit Nilsson and Dietrich Fischer- Dieskau in that D major interlude simply standing still and staring at one another with everything they had in them — the longing the couple feels, the intense attraction, yet the impossibility for them at that moment to express it — was overwhelming (Nilsson and Theo Adam did the same) — it is the magic of filled, focused and felt stillness. But I am not offended (unlike others) but the effort made here to externalize what’s going on. Different times and singers…


            • I mean do disrespect to Mr. Botha by intruding in this thread to his memory but here is the end of act two from that same production of Frau. Given how insane the writing is I think Elena really nails it and is fearless and I ADORE Polaski (a very great singer I think though it’s fair to say it never entirely came together for her — but what a talent!)


            • I loved that production when I saw it on TV, would have loved to see it live. I did see Botha as the Kaiser, with Voigt in London.

            • Gustave Portelance

              disgusting production, poor Botha.

            • PCally

              I remembered this production being labeled a big success when it premiered, at least in Germany. I rather liked it and wasn’t sure why it was controversial. The concept had been done before (the Carsen Vienna production) and as someone who thinks the current met production to be somewhat overrated I like this a lot even if it’s a bit messy and the singing is great.

            • PCally, I have the whole performance and it is my favorite Frau as a view-able production. The Gwinnie (as Dyer’s Wife), Berry and Von Dohnanyi video from Paris documents several great impersonations (and it’s one of her best endeavors on video) but is nothing special as a production. Yes, this does rip off the Carsen which I saw live although this is messier and more plebeian but I think it’s imaginatively done and overall it’s a wonderful cast. It was a great role for Botha.

            • PCally

              No argument from me about the Paris performance. It may be THE most beautifully sung performance from jones I’ve ever heard, Dunn is great, the men are fine, and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to actually fully enjoying behrens. I wonder what your thoughts are on frederich production from Salzburg. It’s basically traditional but I found it exceptionally engaging and beautiful to look at. The Carson I’ve seen twice but both were revivals and were a but sloppy though he’s aesthetic is certainly less messy than in Munich.

            • PCally

              That Turandot was the premiere of the Berio ending wasn’t it? I remember being blown away by the production when I watched the DVD for the first time. And I actually do kind of like schnaut in this (she’s better than many others on DVD) though I detested her the times I saw her live.

        • Bill

          The Bacchus which Dominique Meyer,
          the Intendant of the Vienna Opera mentioned, as upcoming in Botha’s Vienna schedule was
          3 performances of Ariadne in Tokyo in late October where Botha was scheduled to sing
          the tenor role. No replacement as of yet
          has been announced (same for his
          late September/Oct Rhadames in Vienna.

          I saw Botha as Bacchus both at the Vienna
          Opera and at the Theater an der Wien --
          a glorious outpouring of opulent sound without the least bit of strain,

          Again -- Botha will be sorely missed as one of the most prominent tenors of his generation.

      • @mrsjohnclaggart:disqus : You write:

        “I think he evolved as a person from a very conservative background to a very human and empathetic man.”

        I used to joke that Johan Botha was the first Botha I ever liked, so your statement raises a question I’ve wondered about: was he related to either of the infamous apartheid-era politicians? I understand that it’s a very common Afrikaner name, and that Pik Botha and P.W. Botha were not related to each other.

        • I think he was from one of those families although I’m not sure of his precise relationship. I do know that initially some of his political positions put people off but over time he changed and came to be considered a very decent person. He was quite friendly to meet superficially but I know people who were well acquainted with him over time and felt he had really
          “grown up” from a narrow background.

  • Luvtennis

    Very sad. Poor Mrs. JC. She admired his singing. I only know his art thru the Lohengrin recording. It is among the best and most securely sung of any I can recall. He sings with the confidence of someone who knows nothing in the role will exhaust or even challenge his reserves. If you know what mean… Konya’s tone is more glamorous, but Botha sounds even more secure to me. Although I haven’t heard the Konya in ages.

  • DonCarloFanatic
    • At least one mistake in the Opera News obit: his first Otello was at Wiener Staatsoper on 25 October 2006, not 2009.

  • David Campbell

    So shocked to hear the news. I’ve looked out the recording I have of Aida with Johan Botha, Olga Borodina, Juan Pons and Andrea Gruber. An excellent performance from all.

  • DonCarloFanatic
  • Benedetta Funghi-Trifolati

    Just about a year ago I got a yen to hear some Wagner so I trotted off to the Met to hear Botha in TANNHAUSER. I was also thinking this could be among Levine’s last Wagner performances (I’m not particularly a fan) but went for personal reasons and auld lang syne. Also I assumed this would be the last outing of the Schenk production which I always liked. It will probably be replaced by something set on the 3rd moon of Neptune or in Miami Beach. Botha managed to remain fresh after a long evening with plenty of strength for the grueling last act. Tannhausers do not grow on trees and Botha really could sing it. Recently I had read that, after cancelling many performances on his schedule for the last year or so, his cancer apparently was in remission and he had just started re-appearing in selective theatres. Obviously there was some sort of terrible and swift relapse, and/or he may have had other health problems. He carried a great deal of weight for many years especially for a young man — and that frequently comes with a suite of medical misfortunes. Whatever, 51 is too young. Sad to see a talent like his prematurely extinguished.

  • I only saw Botha once in person, the opening of the Met’s Aida with Urmana/Zajick/Gatti, which was later an HD broadcast. Radames wasn’t an ideal role stylistically and his voice suited German rep better. But, like on recording, I found the ease of his singing most impressive. In the act two ensembles, one could hear him soaring through all the lines (no ducking out for him). At the end of “Celeste Aida”, he went for the “morrendo” on the final high note. It wasn’t flawless but I admired the attempt. At the end of the opera, he and Urmana capped a rather unremarkable performance with one of the most beautiful renditions of “O terra addio” I’ve ever heard. Their intonation was flawless and they sang like one. Unfortunately, I can’t find it on YouTube, but I’m glad it was captured on video through the HD broadcast and the DVD release.

    The last time I saw him was the PBS broadcast of Tannhäuser. As others have noted, the ease of his singing in a very difficult part was extraordinary (and it was also dramatically, the most engaged performance I’ve seen of his). A fine voice and a great singer. RIP

    • chicagoing

      Curious that the obituary in the Telegraph includes a mention of a fall Botha took leaving the stage at one of the Met Aida performances especially if it was not during the HD broadcast. Was it news?

      • I found it curious also. I saw the fall he took. I was in the front Orchestra and he fell on my side of the stage. It wasn’t anything big. He just stumbled or tripped as they were all exiting the stage. There was a bit of a traffic jam behind him as he got up and they started moving again. The curtain was coming down as it all happened. More interesting was the fact that Gatti received a few boos during the curtain calls. From what I recall, it wasn’t a performance that could cause one to lay any blames of over-rehearsal.

  • Hank

    Johan Botha’s funeral will be held on Wednesday 21 September 2016 at 11.00 from the Vienna State Opera.The funeral will be at 14.00 at the Central Cemetery. He will be laid to rest in an honor grave.