An opera singer chosen by Nelson Mandela to perform at the opening ceremony of the World Cup has died after a sudden illness.
Siphiwo Ntshebe, 34, a tenor dubbed the “black Pavarotti”, died yesterday from meningitis. He had been admitted to hospital last week.
Ntshebe went from humble beginnings, singing in a township church as a five-year-old, to studying at London's Royal College of Music and performing throughout Europe.
As a black opera singer - with a repertoire including Mozart, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini - he was a trailblazer in South Africa, where there were few such opportunities during apartheid and millions remain in poverty today.
The World Cup organisers said Ntshebe had been picked by former president Mandela, now 91, to sing his new anthem, Hope, at the opening ceremony in Johannesburg on 11 June.
Mandela himself appears on the track, speaking the words: “The generosity of the human spirit can overcome all adversity. Through compassion and caring we can create hope. We can create hope.”
Ntshebe's life seemed to embody the hopeful aspects of South Africa after the dawn of multiracial democracy. He grew up in a shack in New Brighton, an impoverished township in Port Elizabeth. At the age of five he sang in a church where his father was a preacher, and sat on his father's knee singing to guests at the family home, his official website says.
He performed in his father's operas and musicals, sang in school choirs and studied acting and drama. He got his big break at 16 and was offered a scholarship at Cape Town university, then in Australia. In 2004 he was awarded a scholarship on the postgraduate course at the Royal College of Music in London.
Ntshebe featured in concerts across Europe, singing for Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Prince Albert of Monaco. He was preparing for rehearsals for the World Cup opening ceremony when he contracted bacterial meningitis and was admitted to the Livingstone Hospital Port Elizabeth last week.
Danny Jordaan, head of the organising committee, said today: “We are saddened to hear of this young man's death. He was a prodigious talent who would have taken a message of hope from the Fifa World Cup to the whole world.”
Keith Lister, chief executive of Sony Music Entertainment, which owns Ntshebe's label, said: “This is such a sad, tragic story. Within days of realising his dreams he was struck down like this. It is a great loss. For someone who has worked as hard as he has, who has trained, and then to have it taken away right at the moment of the acknowledgement of his talent and success...”
Ntshebe expressed anxiety about his health in his final post on Facebook. “Killing headache, body aches, vomiting but the doctor says it's just fever...” he wrote.
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