Mimi Coertse

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Mimi Coertse is an internationally reknowned performer. (1932-)


Mimi Coertse was born in Durban in 1932. She made her debut at the Johannesburg City Hall in December 1951 in Handel’s Messiah. Coertse received her first vocal training from Aimée Parkerson in Johannesburg, before leaving for Vienna in 1954 to study singing with Maria Hittorff, lied interpretation with Victor Graeff and opera-related subjects at the State Academy for Arts and Sciences in Vienna. Barely a year later she signed a contract with the Vienna State Opera Company for a tour to Italy during which she made her European debut as the First Flower Maiden in Wagner’s Parsifal.

In 1955 she also made her debut in Basle in the role that first brought her fame and that initially almost became her trade mark: the Queen of the Night. She sang this coloratura role more than 500 times at most of the European opera centres and festivals. Her spectacular debut in this role at the Vienna State Opera, on 17 March 1956, led to her eventual permanent appointment at the Vienna State Opera. Apart from memorable successes in roles such as Gilda, Violetta and Lucia, Coertse received the highest acclaim for her contribution to some of the (then) lesser performed operas by Richard Strauss: Fiakermilli in Arabella, Zerbinetta in Ariadne of Naxos, Daphne in Daphne, Aithra in Die ägyptische Helena and Aminta in Die schweigsame Frau.

Coertse’s excellence as Mozart singer came to the fore in her portrayal of the soprano lead roles in Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni, Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Le nozze di Figaro.

Coertse, whose mother tongue is Afrikaans, astonished the Viennese music world with her seemingly inborn gift for the art of the Viennese operetta, in which she excelled. Her versatility also found outlet in the genres of the lied, oratorio, cantata and passion, covering style periods from the Baroque to contemporary twentieth-century music. As concert artist she performed in many important European music centres and music festivals. She appeared in numerous television programmes and in opera presentations on television of Ravel’s L’heure espagnole (in Germany) and Puccini’s Suor Angelica (for SATV, for which she received an Artes award). Mimi Coertse received the honorary title of “Kammersängerin” of Austria from the Austrian government in 1966. She returned permanently to South Africa in 1973, at the height of her European career, although she still visited Austria as guest artist for many years.

Coertse’s South African career included intermittent appearances as opera and concert artist while she followed her career abroad. Since 1973 she appeared regularly in South Africa in opera, concerts, recitals, radio and television. Her important contribution to the popularizing of the Afrikaans art song and folksong is one of her artistic and cultural-historical legacies. Coertse supported fellow South African musicians by means of her Debut with Mimi series and the Mimi Coertse Bursary.

In 1999, Mimi Coertse and Neels Hansen founded the Black Tie Ensemble as means to help preserve the traditions of opera performance in South Africa and to create a pathway for gifted, aspiring young singers to become opera performers. This later evolved into what was later known as the Gauteng Opera.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

She performed in The Sound of Music in the Staatsteater, Pretoria in 1995.

Awards, etc

In 1996 she received the highest accolade from the Austrian government, the Österreichisches Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst. In 1998 she was awarded the honorary degree D. Phil by the University of Pretoria. Further South African honorary awards include a Medal of Honour (1961) and Honorary Membership (2002) from the South African Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the State President’s Decoration for Meritorious Service (1985).


Beeld, 12 August 1995.

Alexandra Xenia Sabina Mossolow[1]. 2003. The career of South African soprano Nellie du Toit, born 1929. Unpublished Masters thesis. University of Stellenbosch.[2]

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