Sunday, 28 August 2011

Johan Botha Gala Concert - Johannesburg

Johan Botha Gala Concert
Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Jhb
20 August 2011
Presented by Cape Town Opera
Conductor: Sebastian Lang-Lessing
KZN Philharmonic Orchestra

This is the second time I have seen Johan Botha performing in a gala concert and the second time that his appearance has made me feel a little uncomfortable. His goatee, belly, and choice of baggy, black clothing remind me of my ex-husband.

However, my ex did not have a mullet.  Johan has a spectacularly dreadful mullet that would not be amiss in Boksburg circa 1982 - or perhaps even now.
I'm sorry but there is no excuse for this . The man lives in Vienna now. Have you ever seen a European with a mullet? Maybe there is a dedicated web site for this sort of thing but I am not going to try and find it. Opera fans already have to stretch their imaginations beyond reasonable limits when it comes to believing that large, middle-aged singers are in fact young, gorgeous men and women who fall in love at first sight. To their credit, most of them manage to convince us. Without the context, costumes and scenery of an opera, though, it's that much more difficult. A better choice of hairstyle would be helpful to audiences in a gala concert setting.

Bad coiffure aside, the man can sing, and the concert was a treat. It was being filmed for Kyknet, an Afrikaans TV channel, so I was glad I'd worn something sparkly and piled on the make-up. 

One of the attractions of a gala concert is getting to hear pieces that are unfamiliar and in that regard, although the programme was a bit heavy on the Italian composers, this concert did not disappoint. I particularly enjoyed Scena del Frate from Don Carlo - the duet parts with Aubrey Loedwyk were lovely. The musically named Violina Anguelov did some amazing trilly twiddly bits in Canzone del velo, from the same opera. She also looked fantastic - great dress, great hair. The other sopranos did well enough to keep up with Johan and belt out their solos, but they did falter here and there and their voices didn't always carry well. Violina was impressive throughout.
Of course, no gala concert is complete without a few favourites and the overplayed aria of choice for this one was Nessun Dorma, which had the audience cheering enthusiastically as the last vincerò floated out over our heads. It's a beautiful aria and Johan's singing certainly did it justice, but it has been done to death by every poperatic star and boy band and I think it we need to rescue it by returning it to Turandot and banning it from being sung anywhere else. At least for a few years.

The Léhar selection provided a lively end to a most enjoyable concert. Johan's choice of encore was an excellent one:
Heimwee, an Afrikaans song so full of yearning that the elderly Afrikaans chap sitting next to me cried a little, which I found touching. It was a beautiful rendition and proved that Afrikaners can be just as treurig as plesierig.

I became a little treurig myself when Nessun Dorma was trotted out again; Mom and I had a bit of a giggle about it but stood up to applaud anyway.

We might be on TV, after all.

About this blog

My love of classical music and the performing arts started around the age of five, the age at which I started ballet lessons. I used to wear one of my grandmother's old nightgowns (my ballet frock) and my ballet shoes, and twirl around on the raised floor of our dining room (my stage). My other grandmother made me a proper ballet outfit for Christmas one year - a pink tutu, tulle headband, and wand. An indulgent adult would play ballet music for me and off I would go into my own little world.

I remember the cover of my favourite LP at the time - a black and white photograph of a young von Karajan conducting Coppelia, as proclaimed by the distinctive yellow logo of Deutsche Grammophon.

Ballet stopped when high school started and was replaced by piano lessons with Mrs Hennig, a sweet old lady who thought I had great potential on account of my large hands and long fingers (I can just reach a note higher than an octave). However, I had neither the patience nor the discipline for the many hours of practice required to be a competent pianist, although, unlike ballet, I enjoyed it immensely nonetheless.

It was my mother who was most influential in developing my love for, and appreciation of, the classical performing arts. I was taken to the ballet at a young age and later, in my university years (the early 1990s), she bought us season tickets for what was then the National Symphony Orchestra.

The NSO's concerts were held in the Johannesburg City Hall. I developed a crush on a tall, dark cello player and a lifeling love for live performances of classical music. Sometimes, Mom and I would have dinner at the swanky La Bastille restaurant (starched napkins, silver cutlery) to celebrate the beginning of a season. She had a greater appreciation of lesser-known works and to this day goes mad for pieces that include lots of percussion. I preferred the 'classic classics' and to this day go mad for anything that includes a tuba.

Sadly, the City Hall became a dodgy venue on account of Joburg becoming a dodgy city. Mom's car was stolen one night during a concert and then the NSO disbanded and that was the end of that era.

Now, nearly twenty years later, I consider myself privileged to live in a city where classical music is very much alive and well, and to have two friends who have studied music and graciously contribute to my ongoing education about music, composers and performers. This blog, then, is my account of the performances I attend.