The South African tenor Johan Botha has died, aged 51. A singer combining great power and lyricism, his most acclaimed achievements were in the great Wagnerian tenor roles, not least Siegmund - which he sang at Bayreuth, and in which he was described as ’outstanding throughout’ by Arnold Whittall when reviewing a well recommended Die Walküre, issued by Opus Arte 2011.
Botha was equally acclaimed in Strauss. Reviewing an Elektra in November 2005, conducted by Semyon Bychkov and issued by Profil, Alan Blyth wrote in these pages: ‘Strauss demands perhaps even more of his principal tenor. If Bacchus in Ariadne is considered a challenge, Apollo here is even more of one, but not for Botha who throws out top B flats and Bs as if there were no tomorrow. He also suggests along the way most of the god’s essential and dominating ardour.’
His first big breaks, however, had come when stepping in as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly in Paris (1993), performing Rodolfo in La bohème at Covent Garden in 1995, and singing in Il Pagliacci at the Met in 1997, his achievement in the Italian repertoire demonstrating the versatility of his art.
Growing up in rural South Africa, the son of a postmaster and postmistress, Botha began singing lessons early in life and, after military service during which he sang in the South African Air Force Choir, had initially studied as a bass-baritone. He died of cancer in Vienna, the city he’d made his home, and where the Vienna State Opera - at which he had sung more than 200 performances - raised a black flag in tribute.