Australian countertenor dies, aged 30

Australian countertenor dies, aged 30


norman lebrecht

May 02, 2022

Hours after he posted news of his incurable cancer, the well-loved countertenor Max Riebl passed away.

The director Mitchell Butel writes:
Yesterday, the world lost a true prince.
Max Riebl was as charming and as gorgeous as any fairytale prince.
And he was a prince of a human being too. Wise and calm and smart and assured beyond his 30 years. A deep thinker and questioner. A sly wit. A truth teller. A playful collaborator. One of the world’s finest countertenors and performers. And one of its finest and most loving husbands and fathers too.
I saw him first sing in Simon Stone’s Hamlet at Belvoir and was knocked out by his seeming direct link to the heavens when he opened his mouth. I met him a few years after and witnessed his ease and quirky humour and loveliness in person.
Last year, I had the complete pleasure of directing him in four roles in The Loves of Apollo and Dafne for Pinchgut Opera. We were both out of our comfort zones. Me and Baroque opera – que? Him now bringing to life 4 very different characters, all comic and tragic in their own ways. And apart from baulking at wearing a curly blonde wig to play the Sun God, Apollo (he made the right call ultimately as you can see below), he put so much trust in me and along with his wonderful song partners, was a model of bravery and creative adventurousness and mischief and heart. Working with him and getting to know him more was one of the true joys and educations of my life. He triumphed of course and was acclaimed by all who saw and heard him.
Over the course of his illness, our friendship deepened. Despite his pain, his toughness, his bravery, his quest for truth, his desire for more art, his honesty about the world and life continually floored me.
One lunchtime during rehearsals, I saw him having lunch with his beloved wife Bethany and two beautiful children, Ivy and Billy in a boatshed café looking out at Rushcutters Bay and it was so clear to me that these 4 souls adored each other so deeply. Sensing that love in action during his illness from his and Bethany’s posts and messages has been a privilege. I can only imagine their heartbreak.


  • A.L. says:

    Heartbreaking. May he Rest In Peace. Our borrowed time should never be take for granted.

  • Kenny says:

    Wow, that is beautiful and heartfelt. I miss him immensely without having I heard a note. Bravo to you, Mr. Butel.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    A brief life, a full life as a musician. But for the family he has left, only tears. But perhaps the quality of their short time together will be a lasting legacy and eternal part of their lives and in their hearts each day. The soul holds the blessings of the life they shared. Godspeed to his family. As for us, there is much to remember of his life in music.

  • Una says:

    So quickly he should die after posting his first post, and then so young. Hopefully he did not suffer much. May he rest in peace.

  • Christopher says:

    May his memory be a blessing.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Unbearable story. 30 is much too young, you have just begun life.

    Why can humans go to mars, for no reason at all, and hold scientific conferences to discuss things for which there is no shred of evidence like ‘multiverses’, and they can’t cure this terrible disease? Why is science wasting time and money on nonsense instead of this plague?

    All sympathy to his family. Obviously he was a great musician.

    • Henri says:

      Vaccines are speeding up weird cancers.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive; cancer research continues apace, but it’s an intractable disease which takes many forms. Time will be needed to surrender its secrets; meantime along comes something like Covid.

      Our societies have benefited hugely from space travel through the development of technologies and products which are used in everything from cars to medicine.

  • V. Lind says:

    That is perhaps the saddest post I have read here.

    Goodnight, sweet prince.

  • Gary Freer says:

    how very cruel and unfair. Deepest condolences to his lovely family and all those who loved him.

  • Susan G. says:

    Oh NO! Not this magnificent soul! I am heartbroken!

  • tanya says:

    how sad…

  • CRogers says:

    What a lovely tribite from Mitchell Butel…….

  • Alexander T says:

    A very sad story.
    My condolences to his family.

  • Jennifer Dyster says:

    Very sad news

  • V. Lind says:

    Although the countertenor voice is not a personal favourite, and although I had never heard of this young man until two days ago, I found myself profoundly moved by his own statement and actually wept when I read the post of his death only a day later.

    This morning I checked YouTube, where I was astonished to find a multitude of entries dating back as far as 11 years ago — somebody, perhaps the Australians, recognised the exceptional quality of his artistry very early and consistently through the years. I highly recommend an exploration: I started with a recording of a favourite art song of mine, Heidenroslein, but will certainly listen to some more. Even as a boy soprano his gift was outstanding. This is truly a huge musical loss as well as a deeply personal one for his family and all those who knew him.

    So I find it particularly distasteful that, at this writing, two posters have chosen to use this tragedy to promote their anti-vaccination beliefs. They are entitled to those beliefs, despite no credible links having been made between vaccination and cancer. But in view of the clear response of most of those who have chosen to participate in this quiet tribute thread, their introduction of political views to a page of heartwrenching, even hearbroken, responses is simply cruel.

    I think the musical world has experienced a great loss. As usual, Jeffrey Biegel has written the most sensitive response, and it is thanks to him that I looked for examples of Max Riebl’s work. I commend it to others who find this recent turn of events nothing more than a tragedy.

  • Alan Bevis says:

    This lovely talented man has left the world a better place after his sadly brief time here. My deepest condolences to all who knew him. May his soul rest in peace.

  • Marg says:

    A huge loss, especially to Australian music lovers. He was so well liked and respected. Thoughts with his wife and kids and extended family.

  • Anita says:

    Max was blessed with a beautiful ethereal voice. May Gods love and peace be with his family.