Botha had a father who was a great admirer of Enrico Caruso, and he got his first voice
lessons already at the age of 10. As an adult, he studied in Pretoria, first as a bass, from 1987 as a tenor, and he sang his
first stage roles in university performances. His official debut came in 1989 (as Max in Roodeport, which is part of
In 1990, he was a chorister at the Bayreuth Festival and sang Riccardo in Kaiserslautern. Then he had his first contracts in
Hagen, Dortmund and Bonn. 1993 brought his breakthrough as Pinkerton at the Paris Opéra Bastille; via Hamburg and Berlin
(both Staatsoper and Komische Oper), he came to the Vienna Volksoper, and in 1996 to the Vienna Staatsoper, where he would spend
most of his career: Cavaradossi (his Staatsoper debut role), Calaf, Andrea Chénier, Turiddu, Canio, Otello, Don Carlo,
Arrigo, Radames, Lohengrin, Stolzing, Erik, Tannhäuser, Siegmund, Parsifal, Florestan, Bacchus, Kaiser, Apollo (Daphne),
many of them in new productions.
Guest appearances at the Salzburg Festival, in Munich, Bayreuth (Siegmund, 2010 and 2013), regularly at Covent Garden, and from
1997 to 2015 at the Met (81 performances: Canio, Calaf, Radames, Don Carlo, Otello, Lohengrin, Stolzing, Siegmund,
Tannhäuser and Florestan). Botha died from liver cancer.
I heard him often and in many roles, with mixed results from terrible experiences (Pollione at the Vienna Volksoper early in his
career, Tannhäuser at the Staatsoper in 2010, when his voice was already in alarming condition) to really memorable
achievements: Stolzing at the Volksoper (a fantastic production with the great Wicus Slabbert as Beckmesser), Siegmund at the
Staatsoper, and (quite surprisingly, since Botha's Italian roles were normally not quite italianate enough to my ears) Arrigo
in I vespri siciliani.
Regularly, you had to feel sorry for Botha when stage directors showed absolutely no consideration for his massive stature; the Vespri
siciliani production at the Staatsoper was a good example, the uniform stage set being a giant and very steep staircase, on which
the singers had to race up and down, which was certainly easier for the slim and sportive ones than it was for Botha. Also when
they forced him to kneel down and stand up again, it was almost painful to watch him toiling. On the other hand, in the
Meistersinger production mentioned above, stage director Christine Mielitz worked a miracle, and used Botha's physique for her
directorial concept, in a completely respectful way, i. e. without ridiculing him the slightest bit.
Reference 1: archives of the Vienna Staatsoper, reference 2: archives of the Metropolitan Opera, reference 3:
Kutsch & Riemens, reference 4
Picture source (© Clemens Fabry)