|Born||Miliza Elizabeth Korjus
August 18, 1909
|Died||August 26, 1980
Culver City, California
|Children||Melissa F. Wells|
Miliza Elizabeth Korjus [militsa] (August 18, 1909 – August 26, 1980) was a Polish and Estonian coloratura soprano opera singer, who later appeared in Hollywood films. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1938 for her performance in The Great Waltz.
She was born in Warsaw, Poland, (then part of the Russian Empire) the daughter of Anna (née Gintowt) and Artur Korjus, an Estonian lieutenant colonel in the Imperial Russian Army and later Chief of Staff to the War Minister of Estonia. Her mother was descended from the Lithuanian-Polish nobility. She was born during her father's military posting there in 1909; later the family moved to Moscow. She was the fifth of six children (she had one brother, and four sisters). Her mother and father separated during the Russian Revolution of 1917 and in 1918 she moved from Moscow to Kiev with her mother and sisters, where she began her musical training.
As a teenager, Korjus toured the Soviet Union with the Dumka Choir. In 1927, while performing in Leningrad, she managed to cross the border into Estonia, where she was reunited with her father. She then began touring the Baltic countries and Germany, and, in 1929, married Kuno Foelsch, a physicist. Korjus continued her concert career as a soprano in Germany and was eventually engaged by the Berlin State Opera in 1933. Her operatic appearances and recordings quickly propelled her to the forefront of European singers and earned her the nickname "The Berlin Nightingale". Film producer Irving Thalberg heard her recordings and signed her to a ten-year film contract, sight unseen.
Korjus' first Hollywood film was The Great Waltz (1938), which Frank Nugent of the New York Times called "a showcase for Miliza Korjus" while also noting her resemblance to Mae West. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the role.
Korjus was scheduled to star in a film version of the novel Sandor Rozsa in 1940, but an automobile accident caused her leg to be crushed, and, although she avoided amputation, she required extensive recuperation, causing the film to be cancelled. By 1941 she had healed well enough to begin a tour of South America. During her tour, the United States became involved in World War II, and she decided to stay in Mexico for the duration. While living there, she made a Spanish language film, Caballería del Imperio.
In 1944, Korjus returned to the United States, where she performed at Carnegie Hall. She toured the country for several more years, eventually settling in Los Angeles, California. She later founded Venus Records to release many of her earlier recordings.
In 1952, she married Walter Shector, a physician, and retired from the concert stage, preferring to concentrate on making records. She died of heart failure in 1980 at Culver City, California, USA and was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Korjus’ daughter Melissa F. Wells was born in Estonia in 1932 and for over forty years was a career officer of the US foreign service. Notably, she served as US Ambassador to Estonia between 1998-2001.
- Miliza Korjus Collector's Edition: 4-CD set issued by Korjus Recordings. Contains all digitally re-mastered recordings made in Europe and USA, plus live concert performances. Ordering information can be found at the Official Website for Miliza Korjus
- Miliza Korjus I: arias and excerpts from Die Zauberflöte, Le toréador, La zingara, Lucia di Lammermoor, Ernani, Rigoletto, I vespri siciliani, Mireille, Dinorah, The Tales of Hoffmann, Lakmé, Sadko, The Tsar's Bride, The Golden Cockerel, Proch: Tema e variazioni, CD 89054 (Preiser Lebendige Vergangenheit)
- Miliza Korjus II: arias and excerpts from Die Entführung aus dem Serail, The Barber of Seville, Rigoletto, Lakmé, also songs by Delibes, Moszkowski, Weber, Chopin, Johann Strauss II, Alyabyev, Arditi, Denza, Rossini, Taubert, Muller, Mackeben, CD 89169 (Preiser Lebendige Vergangenheit)
- Miliza Korjus III: arias and excerpts from works by Johann Strauss II, Mozart, Bellini etc. CD 896795 (Preiser Lebendige Vergangenheit)
- Miliza Korjus - The Berlin Nightingale CD 727031918622 (Pearl)
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- Obituary, New York Times, September 1, 1980.