When the World Cup games open in Johannesburg, South Africa on 11 June, one important figure will be missing from the international center stage. South African tenor Siphiwo Ntshebe, who was due to lead the opening anthem, died on 26 May at a hospital in his hometown of Port Elizabeth. Ntshebe will be mourned by an international audience of close to 500,000,000 spectators.
Operatic tenor Siphiwo Ntshebe was born 34 years ago in Port Elizabeth. He was a brilliant vocalist, about to launch a bona fide bid for international stardom at the Mondiale opening ceremonies. Trained in South Africa, Australia, and at London’s Royal College of Music, Siphiwo was selected by former South African President Nelson Mandela to sing Mr. Mandela’s own words set to music – a signature song called “Hope,” which the tenor had already recorded.
“Hope” was to be released as part of an official World Cup album that will include a spoken message from Mr. Mandela. Tragically, the live debut of “Hope” will not take place.
Ntshebe succumbed to bacterial meningitis, which he recently contracted while rehearsing for the opening ceremonies. He died last week in a Port Elizabeth hospital. But, millions of spectators, who will be watching the launch of the games, will be able to hear Siphiwo Ntshebe’s posthumous rendition of the song.
South Africa tournament chief organizer Danny Jordaan, who together with FIFA President Sepp Blatter led tributes to the singer, said Ntshebe will be sorely missed.
“It came as a huge shock. Siphiwo comes from my own hometown of Port Elizabeth. And, we thought that this is a wonderful and unique opportunity for a talented young man. And, the opening ceremony, and for the opening match, we expect between 450,000,000 and 500,000,000 viewers worldwide. So it was a massive opportunity. And so, we were shocked, first of all, and saddened by the loss,” he said.
As is the case with customary operatic superlatives, Ntshebe had been dubbed as “the new Pavarotti” or “the black Pavarotti,” after the late legendary Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti. That billing also served as a reminder that Ntshebe was following in the footsteps of The Three Tenors, an operatic trio including Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carreras, who helped launch several other World Cup gala openings in Europe, in Asia, and in North America between 1990 and 2002. Such rare occasions could easily tempt organizers to find a replacement, but South Africa’s Danny Jordaan says that, for 2010, no one will be selected to fill Siphiwo Ntshebe’s shoes.
“We have decided not to do so. We have decided we have a recording of his rendition of the song, and we’ll be playing that song,” he said.
And so, the man hand-picked by Nelson Mandela to open the 11 June South Africa – Mexico match, the singer who had already performed at the handover ceremony of the World Cup to South Africa, the tenor who gave his first concert with orchestra at age 16, who had sung at St. James’s Palace for the Duke of Edinburgh, in Monaco for Prince Albert, and before a live audience at London’s Royal Albert Hall, will be memorialized in Johannesburg and on television screens.
Sony Records executives have not yet revealed plans for the release of the album Siphiwo Ntshebe had completed as part of a multi-album deal with the record label and its subsidiary, Epic. But, Sony’s South Africa chief executive officer Keith Lister said that a decision on the release of the album is currently being made by Sony Records’ executive office in London.