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Johan Botha (tenor)
Vienna State Opera Orchestra
rec. live, Wiener Staatsoper, 1997-2014 by Öserterreichischen Rundfunks
ORFEO C906 171 B [72:57]

This album is part of the Wiener Staatsoper Live series on Orfeo. The collection of opera arias performed by the late South African tenor Johan Botha has been released to mark his 19-year association with the Vienna State Opera. Botha, who died of cancer in 2016 at the age of 51, had sung at the world’s major opera houses during his 25 years on the opera stage. He made his debut at Wiener Staatsoper in 1996 as Cavaradossi in Tosca. Until 2015 he notched up 222 performances in 21 different roles, and appeared at other gala concerts and in orchestral songs. The Wiener Staatsoper honoured Botha with the title Kammersänger and agreed in 2015 to appoint him to honorary membership, but he died before the honour was formally awarded.

Botha’s glowing voice was large, as was his Pavarotti-like physique. He excelled in Wagner’s great Heldentenor roles: Lohengrin, Tannhäuser and Siegmund. He sang Siegmund in Die Walküre at four Bayreuth festivals. On the other hand, he sang roles in Mozart, Verdi, Puccini and Richard Strauss. His professional debut was the 1989 role of Max in Weber’s Der Freischütz in Johannesburg. His breakthrough came in 1993 at Opéra Bastille in Paris. He deputised at short notice as Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, learning the role in just two days. Botha said: “Within two weeks I had signed contracts with Covent Garden, the Met, Vienna Volksoper and Berlin Opera.” Although I could not hear Botha on the opera stage in 2015, I was fortunate to report on his singing in concert of Brahms’s cantata Rinaldo and Liszt’s Faust Symphony under Bertrand de Billy at Albertinum, Dresden.

On this Orfeo album, every track has merit. It is a pleasure to hear Botha’s expressive voice in eight different roles: four in Wagner (Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Walther and Parsifal), three in Richard Strauss (Der Kaiser, Apollo and Bacchus) and one in Beethoven (Florestan). A compelling Heldentenor, Botha produces a colourful tone combined with firm projection, exciting dynamic contrasts and expressive nuances. It is striking how he demonstrates the resilience to stay securely in tune throughout such demanding parts. His ability to soar confidently to his high register is notable. Botha’s undoubted prowess stands out for me in two of the tracks. Notable from the 1999 production of Die Frau ohne Schatten is Amme! Wachst du? Botha is strikingly assertive as the Kaiser, with Marjana Lipovšek as Amme. From 2010 there is the title role in Tannhäuser, with baritone Christian Gerhaher as Wolfram. Botha communicates the Rome Narrative Hör an, Wolfram, hör an! Inbrunst im Herzen with captivating engagement.

There is a roster of seven conductors in the collection. The Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper demonstrates its aptitude and affection for this romantic music playing with ample surety to match its commitment. The recordings come from radio broadcasts by ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk). The recorded sound is produced to a consistently pleasing quality, and one does sense the special atmosphere of the live performance. On a couple of tracks applause has been retained.

Live at Wiener Staatsoper, this first-rate collection is testament to Johan Botha’s assured musicianship in some of his finest Wagner and Richard Strauss roles.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Margarida Mota-Bull

Track listing
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
1. Gott! Welch Dunkel hier! (as Florestan from Fidelio) [7:52]
Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper / Seiji Ozawa
rec. 30 October 2004
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
2. Hör' an, Wolfram! … Inbrunst im Herzen (in the title role from Tannhäuser) [12:37]
Christian Gerhaher (Wolfram), Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper / Franz Welser-Möst
rec. 16 June 2010
3. Atmest du nicht mit mir die süssen Düfte? (in the title role from Lohengrin) [7:56]
Cheryl Studer (Elsa), Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper / Simone Young
rec. 20 February 1997
4. Morgenlich leuchtend im rosigen Schein 'Prize Song' (as Walther from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg) [7:29]
James Rutherford (Sachs), Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper / Simone Young
rec. 25 November 2012
5. Wehe! Wehe! Was tat ich? (in the title role from Parsifal) [11:27]
Angela Denoke (Kundry), Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper / Donald Runnicles
rec. 11 April 2004
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
6. Amme, wachst du? (as Kaiser from Die Frau ohne Schatten) [5:03]
Marjana Lipovšek (Amme), Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper / Giuseppe Sinopoli
rec. 11 December 1999
7. Zu dir nun, Knabe! (as Apollo from Daphne) [6:16]
Ricarda Merbeth (Daphne), Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper / Semyon Bychkov
rec. 13 June 2004
8. Bin ich ein Gott, schuf mich ein Gott? (as Bacchus from Ariadne auf Naxos) [13:37]
Soile Isokoski (Ariadne), Valentina Nafornită (Najade), Rachel Frenkel (Dryade), Olga Bezsmertna (Echo), Daniela Fally (Zerbinetta), Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper / Christian Thielemann
rec. 18 October 2014



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