The following is extracted from Volume I of the 1986 edition of South African Music Encyclopedia (J.P. Malan, ISBN 0 86965 586 8) - [the parts in square brackets are inserts from other sources, mainly CD liner notes]
COERTSE, MARIA SOPHIA (MIMI), soprano, born 12 June 1932 in Durban, South Africa.
Having completed her schooling in Germiston and Johannesburg, Mimi Coertse, to the disappointment of her parents, set about preparing herself with great determination for a singing career. She undertook intensive studies in speech, singing, pianoforte and drama, from teachers such as Twinkle Hanekom, Aimèe Parkerson and Taubie Kuschlik, while earning her living as a singing and piano teacher. From 1951, successes at eisteddfodau, in radio broadcasts and concert appearances in variety programmes, drew attention to her great possibilities. Proceeds from concerts, supplemented by the Johannesburg Skakelkomitee and the FAK, made it possible for her to study in Europe. Shortly after her first marriage to Dawid Engela in 1953 (divorced in 1957), she left for Vienna where, in 1954, she studied under Maria Hittorff, and at the State Academy for Music and Drama, under Joseph Witt.
1955 was the year of Mimi's discovery in Europe. In January she signed a contract with the Vienna Chamber Opera Company. Conducted by Karl Böhm, this company performed Parsifal and Don Giovanni in the Neapolitan San Carlo Theatre, with Mimi Coertse as the First Flower Maiden in Wagner's work. She had further successes as a member of the Academy Theatre Group (as Konstanze in Entführung, and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos) when it performed in Schönbrunn (Vienna) and Bad Aussee, where both critics and audiences celebrated her as the vocal discovery of the year. After a successful summer visit to South Africa, she was an outstanding success in Basel in the role that made her famous, and which she was to sing over 500 times in various European opera houses: the Queen of the Night in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. Having repeated the Basel success in Naples, she made her debut in the same role at the Vienna State Opera (17 March 1956). This resulted in a three-year contract, which was renewed, and led to a permanent appointment.
After her first season with the State Opera, she appeared at Covent Garden and Salzburg, and has since then sung in theatres in Cologne, Glyndebourne, Athens, Aix-en-Provence, Brussels, Barcelona, Palermo, Berlin and Geneva, as well as in Austrian centres other than Vienna. Meanwhile, she was extending the repertoire within her versatile vocal range, to include practically all the important dramatic coloratura roles of opera, as well as a number of comic parts, and solo parts in various oratorios and passions. [She was much admired as R. Strauss's Fiakermilli, Donizetti's Lucia, Verdi's Violetta and Gilda, Flotow's Martha, Mozart's Donna Anna, Lehàr's Hanna Glawari, and J. Strauss's Rosalinde.] Two achievements deserve special mention:
- her successes in R. Strauss's operas culminated in March 1968, when she sang the title role in a Viennese premiere of Die Schweigsame Frau,
- and she enjoyed a remarkable triumph of singing and acting by interpreting all three leading female roles in Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann in South Africa (1962 - in Afrikaans), as well as at the Vienna State Opera (1967/68 - in German).
[Between 1965 and 1969 Mimi was married to the Italian businessman Diego Brighi.]
Since 1970 she has added to her roles in Strauss operas by appearing in Die Ägyptische Helena and Daphne, both produced at the State Opera in Vienna, made her first appearances on TV and participated in the filming of a script on the life of Robert Stolz, the prominent operetta composer. The Musikverein Concert Hall saw her in a performance of Schubert's Lazarus fragments and Mahler's Das klagende Lied, but since her marriage to Werner Ackerman in 1970 [they divorced after 24 years of marriage], her European career has gradually drawn to a close. [After 1973 she rarely sang there, and has since then finally settled in South Africa.] She appeared at the Vienna State Opera for the last time in 1978 in the role of Elisabetta in Verdi's Don Carlo. [Mimi sang at the Staatsoper a total of 469 times in 27 different roles.]
In previous years she had regularly visited South Africa and appeared as a celebrity in major centres, for instance at the inauguration of the Aula of the University of Pretoria (1958), the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg (1962), and of the Amphitheatre of the University of Pretoria (1962). Since her return to her native country, Mimi has continued her close association with the South African Universities by singing at the inaugural concerts of the auditoriums erected by the Rand Afrikaans University, the UOFS, and the Port Elizabeth University. She was also invited to sing with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Anton Hartman at the opening of the SABC's new concert studio in Auckland Park in 1976. Proud of her achievements, South Africa has repeatedly called on her to practise her art at national festivals such as the unveiling of the Afrikaans Taalmonument in Paarl or the Language Dedication Concert at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria (both in 1975). Previous festival occasions had been the Half-Century Festival of the Union of South Africa (1960) and the Republican Festival of 1966. Apart from these official honours, Mimi Coertse has continued her concert career in co-operation with the pianist Pieter de Villiers in the Republic as well as in South West Africa (now Namibia), completed a series on her singing career for TV and launched a new tradition of Christmas concerts at the Nico Malan Theatre in Cape Town. There have also been a few appearances in opera in the Transvaal and Cape.
She was presented with the Medal of Honour for Music by the South African Academy of Science and Art on 17 May 1961, and on 5 October 1966 the President of the Austrian Republic bestowed on her the title of Kammersängerin. Thus, within ten years of the commencement of her career, the two countries that most benefited from her vocal art, acknowledged and rewarded her exceptional achievements.
In 1959 she donated a bursary carrying her name to the University of Pretoria to enable promising young vocalists to further their careers overseas. Funds were made available from concerts that Mimi gave for this purpose, in the University's Aula, to be supplemented by concerts given by winners of the bursary after their return to South Africa. Among others, the following singers had the advantage of this support in their studies: Gert Potgieter, Wolfgang Anheisser, Hans van Heerden, Carla Pohl, Noreen Hastings, Carla Nel, and Michelle Breedt.
[Mimi Coertse was also an outstanding singer of art songs. She made a vast contribution to the recorded legacy of the Afrikaanse Lied, and made many recordings of these songs throughout her celebrated career.
Her first international commercial recording happened during the Autumn of 1956 in Vienna. In Mimi's own words:
"-- I have been invited to record the role of Hanna Glawari in Lehàr's Die lustige Witwe with the Wiener Staatsoper - naturally I accepted without hesitation! (Even though I had never sung the role before!) The recordings were made in the Goldener Saal des Musikvereins in Vienna, the first time I was to work in that legendary concert hall, and also my first encounter with international recording techniques! What I found really wonderful was that, during those first few sessions, members of the orchestra wanted to know, 'How is it possible that you are able to sing operetta music this well? Where did you learn it?' For someone new to the role, an enormous compliment indeed! This unexpected introduction to echt Viennese operetta led to other appearances in the genre - until in 1960 - when I finally sang my first 'Widow' on stage at the Staatsoper. This was without a doubt one of the most treasurable experiences of my entire singing career abroad. The critics raved, and thank goodness, so did the audiences! I now know that, had I recorded Die lustige Witwe a little later in my career, I could have sung it even better, with more insight. But this recording, with the young Mimi voice, captured a freshness and enthusiasm that one feels all too briefly in one's life. --"] Taken from the Merry Widow CD notes
Mimi Coertse (born 12 June, 1932), is a South African soprano.
Coertse, born in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, matriculated at the Helpmekaar Girls High School in Johannesburg. She left South Africa in September 1953 for London, and then via The Hague to Vienna. In January 1954 she started training with Maria Hittorff and Josef Witt.
Coertse made her debut in January 1955 as the First Flower Girl in Wagner's Parsifal at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Karl Bohm conducting. She also sang in Basle at the Teatro San Carlo. On 17 March 1956 she made her debut at the Vienna State Opera as Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute (Mozart) and remained with the Vienna State Opera until 1978.
Coertse sang the soprano part in Bach's Matthäus-Passion at Fritz Wunderlich's first appearance at Vienna in 1958, when he did the tenor arias with Julius Patzak singing the Evangelist. In 1958, Coertse and Fritz Wunderlich again worked together at the Aix-en-Provence festival in Die Zauberflöte. In 1965, she sang Konstanze in Werner Düggelin's controversial production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Vienna State Opera which also featured Fritz Wunderlich as Belmonte.
Her repertoire also includes:
* Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) - Konstanze
* Ariadne auf Naxos (Richard Strauss) - Zerbinetta
* Rigoletto (Giuseppe Verdi) - Gilda
* Les Contes d'Hoffmann (Jacques Offenbach) - Olympia/Giulietta/Antonia
* Palestrina (Hans Pfitzner) - The Angel
* Carmen (Georges Bizet) - Frasquita
* Martha (Friedrich von Flotow) - Martha
* Mignon (Ambroise Thomas) - Philine
* La Traviata (Giuseppe Verdi) - Violetta
* Irische Legende (Werner Egk) - Female lead
* Unverhofftes Begegnen (Joseph Haydn) - Female lead
* I Pagliacci (Ruggiero Leoncavallo) - Nedda
* Arabella (Richard Strauss) - Fiaker-Milli
* Bastien und Bastienne (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) - Bastienne
* Die Lustige Witwe (Franz Lehár) - Hanna Glawari
* Lucia di Lammermoor (Gaetano Donizetti) - Lucia
* Die Fledermaus (Johann Strauss II) - Rosalinde
* Don Giovanni (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) - Donna Anna/Donna Elvira
* La Boheme (Giacomo Puccini) - Musetta
* Norma (Vincenzo Bellini) - Norma
* Cosi Fan Tutte (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) - Fiordiligi
Coertse has sung in theatres at Aix-en-Provence, Athens, Barcelona, Brussels, Covent Garden, Düsseldorf, Glyndebourne, Graz, Linz, Melk, Naples, Palermo, Salzburg, Stuttgart, The Hague and Turin and with conductors like Karl Böhm, Vittorio Gin, Heinrich Hollreiser, Herbert von Karajan, Josef Keilbert, Rudolf Kempe, Josef Krips, Rafael Kubelik, Peter Lainsdorf, Wilhelm Loibner, Lorin Maazel, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Edouard van Moortel, Rudolf Moralt, John Pritchard, Argeo Quadri, Mario Rossi, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Herman Scherchen, Georg Solti, Hans Swarowsky, Georges Szell and Antonio Votto.
Among the famous singers who have partnered her were Walter Berry, Rudolf Christ, Boris Christoff, Anton Dermota, Otto Edelmann, Hilde Gueden, Johannes Heesters, Sena Jurinac, Waldemar Kmentt, Erich Kunz, Christa Ludwig, Julius Patzak, Helge Roswaenge, Rudolf Schock, Teresa Stich-Randall, Otto Wiener, Fritz Wunderlich and Guiseppe Zampieri.
Since returning to South Africa in 1973 she has been a regular guest on South African stages and also a frequent broadcaster on radio and television. In recent years she has devoted her time to exposing young South African singers to the neglected art of Lieder singing which can be artistically even more demanding than opera singing. Her support for her fellow South African musicians has been outstanding - as may be witnessed in her Debut with Mimi events and through the Mimi Coertse Bursary.
In 1998 Mimi Coertse and Neels Hansen founded The Black Tie Ensemble, a development project which enables young, classically trained singers to bridge the gap between training and professional performance. This project has developed into the most exciting classical singing ensemble in South Africa, and is now on the brink of becoming a vibrant, new, young opera company. A project for future stars of Africa! The Ensemble, sponsored by Sappi, performs operas at the State Theatre (Pretoria), Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens (Johannesburg) and the Civic Theatre (Johannesburg).
Honours and awards
* 1961 Coertse was awarded the Medal of Honour of Die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns
* 1966 a most prestigious title from the Austrian Government: Kammersängerin.
* 1985 she received in South Africa the Decoration for Meritorious Service in recognition of the contribution to the Arts.
* August 1996 she received the highest accolade an artist can receive from the Austrian Government: the Oesterreichishe Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst.
* 2003 she received the D.Phil (h.c.) from the University of Pretoria, South Africa
* In 2004 she was voted 94th in the Top 100 Great South Africans
The following MS Word document contains information taken from an article publised in volumes 33 and 34 of Ars Nova (the Unisa Musicologica):
The following MS Word document contains a discography of Mimi Coertse's Vienna years, compiled by Jack Murray: