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Lyric’s snake-bitten ‘Otello’ loses its star tenor when ailing Botha cancels final 2 performances

Submitted by on Oct 28, 2013 – 11:11 am

Report: Clifton Forbis to step in for Johan Botha Oct. 29 and Nov. 2 in the lead role of the jealous Moor in Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy.

By Nancy Malitz

First, the German bass-baritone Falk Struckmann, singing the role of  the evil Iago in Verdi’s “Otello,” lost his voice suddenly to an allergy flare-up during opening night of the  Lyric Opera’s 59th season, causing a frantic search for the understudy in the darkened audience.

Now it’s ‘s the Otello’s turn. Johan Botha has dropped out of the production’s remaining performances. The South African heldentenor, who has performed the vocally and dramatically challenging role of Otello the world over, has been plagued by severe back pain from a previous injury and has returned to Vienna for treatment, according to Lyric’s general director Anthony Freud.

Whatever scramble occurred to find Botha’s replacement, at least it didn’t happen in the middle of a performance. Clifton Forbis has been secured to sing the remaining two nights, Oct. 29 and Nov. 2.

“Otello” was to have been the “easy” opera — the slam-dunk season opener. It’s the only production of the season that’s not new, or new to, the Lyric. Botha and Struckmann are reliable and enormously popular in their roles. The opera itself is an undisputed masterpiece.

But trouble has stalked this show from the beginning. Here is an excerpt from the Lyric’s latest announcement: 

“Mr. Botha deeply regrets his inability to sing these last performances,” his manager Michael Lewin said. “He has been suffering with this for the past several weeks, but the pain has now reached a point that he feels he can no longer perform at the level he demands of himself, or that his audiences deserve.”

Clifton Forbis’s much-acclaimed portrayal of Otello inaugurated Dallas’s Winspear Opera House in 2009, premiering The Dallas Opera’s new Tim Albery production. Forbis has also starred as Otello at the Vienna Staatsoper, La Scala (both in Milan and on tour to Japan), the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari, Opera Philadelphia, and with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia. The tenor made his Lyric Opera debut as Tom Buchanan/The Great Gatsby (2000-01) and returned as Tristan/Tristan und Isolde (2008-09). His Tristan has also been heard at La Scala, the Vienna Staatsoper, the Berlin Staatsoper, and with the major houses of Geneva (DVD), Paris, Lyon, and Los Angeles (role debut).

Among his other Wagner roles are Siegmund/Die Walküre (Metropolitan Opera, Vienna Staatsoper, The Dallas Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Act One last season with the Dallas Symphony) and the title role/Parsifal (Paris, also Act Three with James Conlon conducting at Florence’s Maggio Musicale Fiorentino). Other major roles in Forbis’s stylistically varied repertoire include Florestan/Fidelio (Barcelona, Brussels, Toronto, Dallas, Atlanta), Samson/Samson et Dalila (Met, Marseille, Bilbao, Genoa, San Diego, Cincinnati), and Laca/Jenůfa (Philadelphia Orchestra). Among his other Met roles are Don José, Lensky, Andrei/Khovanshchina, title role/Oedipus Rex, the Drum Major/Wozzeck, and the Painter/Lulu. He has also sung Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with numerous major orchestras, including those of Boston, Toronto, and Cleveland.

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