Johan Botha, SA tenor extraordinaire
Tenor extraordinaire, Johan Botha has graced the stages of all the leading opera houses around the world. We wanted to know how life at the top of the ladder was.
Please describe a typical day in your life (when working).
If I am on the road (in the USA or UK) I will start rehearsing at 10h00 to 13h00, and then do another session from 14h00 to 18h00. In the rest of Europe working hours will be from 10h00 to 13h00 and 16h00 to 20h00.
On days when I am not rehearsing I will work with my coach, Brenda Rein, on new repertoire and roles that I am preparing.
You have enjoyed an immensely successful career, singing in all the sought-after opera houses around the world. Do you feel there are still some challenges left for you?
Yes, there are always challenges for me to work on - at this moment it is learning “Tristan” for 2017. I always challenge myself to bring something new the role that I am singing at that moment every night.
Do you still take lessons or work with a regular coach? How many hours a day do you practice when not performing and are preparing for a role?
Yes, I do go to my singing teacher Frau Hartmann in Berlin twice a year. It is very important to work with your teacher every year; because a singer cannot hear himself making mistakes and this can contribute to problems he or she may have later on. It is like going for a tune up! As I have mentioned earlier, Brenda and I are working basically every day (except weekends) on new and already familiar operas, to find some new colours to put into the music. One can never stop working. Sometimes we work up to two hours a day and after that, I will work on my own.
Does a singer of your stature still get asked to do auditions, or are you just offered roles directly?
No, I don’t have to audition any more - all the houses know me by now and they offer me roles. My manager, Mr. Lewin, negotiates the contracts with the opera houses internationally.
Is it as easy for you to sing in French as it is in Italian or German? Which do you find most challenging?
I don’t often sing in French. Mostly I sing in Italian and German. I specialize in Richard Wagner and Strauss and the Verismo operas, Verdi and Puccini. I would love to sing the rest of the French repertoire, but the houses are mostly only interested in Wagner and Strauss and I seldom get Italian opera I have to negotiate very hard to get the Italian repertoire.
Nowadays opera singers are expected to be convincing actors. Is this something that comes to you naturally, or do you have to work hard at it?
It comes naturally, the producers only need explain to me their concept to me and then I can work with it.
Do you prefer directors who give you a very free hand in terms of characterization or do you prefer one that leads strongly?
I prefer one that knows his work and that can challenge me with the character that I am singing.
Has your voice changed much over the years? This has obviously also influenced your choice of repertoire.
Yes, my voice have become very dramatic and I have to work on it every day to keep it lyrical and “it alienated”, so that I will be able to sing until 60. My voice has dictated about which parts or roles to sing up till now and this will stay the same in the future.
A career like yours obviously demands a lot of work, travel and dedication. What is the most difficult for you? Which part of it do you enjoy the most?
The most difficult for me is after the show. You have just sing for five hours and the audience applauded and then you are alone in your hotel room in absolute silence. This can get depressing and lonely. When I am at home, singing in Vienna, I have my wife to go home to and then I can relax.
Who have been your favourite leading ladies and conductors?
Everyone I have worked with.
Please share an anecdote or two from your career – there must be many!
There’s a lot! I was singing “Il Pagliacci” at the Met and we had a real horse on stage that pulled our little wagon, and every evening before “Un grande spettacolo a Ventri tre ore”, the horse farted and it was so loud that the entire audience noticed it! The smell was horrific, but the show must go on!
As a South African who has been living abroad with Austrian citizenship, do you still feel South African?
Yes, I still am a South African and will die one.
What do you do for relaxation?
When I am on the road, I will watch films on my laptop and otherwise I will listen to my iPod’s. When I am at home I spend time playing with my kids or work on my hobbies. I enjoy just being able to spend time with my wife and enjoy life.
Johann Botha will be performing in Johannesburg on 20 August and in Cape Town on 28 August. Please see our What’s On calendar for full details.
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