Artist Profile: Tenor Johan Botha, South Africa’s Most Recorded Opera Singer

By David Salazar

Johan Botha, born on August 19, 1965, did not get the chance to live a long life. But he left a major impact on those who heard the South African tenor sing. 

Born in Rustenburg, the tenor trained with Jarmilla Tellenger between ages 10-17. After serving in the South African Air Force, he continued to study voice. 

Then things went a bit strange. He started training as a bass-baritone and sang the title role of “Falstaff” in a student production. But he then started to shift his voice toward that of a tenor. In 1990, he moved to Europe and eventually made his professional debut at the municipal theater in Roodepoort. That same year, he became a member of the opera chorus at the Bayreuth Festival. He wouldn’t stay there for too long. 

It wasn’t long before he was singing at the major opera houses around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, La Scala, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and the Salzburg Festival, among others. 

However, on Sept. 8, 2016, he passed away after losing a battle with cancer. He passed on as the most recorded South African opera singer in history, leaving his voice imprinted on recordings of Wagner, Verdi, Strauss, Puccini, Mahler, and Dvorak, among others. 

Major Roles

Botha sang a lot of great dramatic roles and many note the quality of his Otello in his final years. But his Wagner interpretations were his calling card. Many might cite the greatness of his Siegmund, for which he earned tremendous distinction, but he was also a major “Tannhäuser” and Walter von Stolzig in “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.”

Of his final set of interpretations of the latter role at the Met, Bachtrack noted, “Johan Botha, with his beautiful voice and tremendous musicality, sang the role impeccably. His breath control was masterful… the ending of his Act III prize song was splendid.”

Read More on Botha

His Greatest Roles

Watch and Listen

Here is a recording of his “Parsifal.”


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