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.