Mimi Coertse

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Mimi Coertse, DMS
Mimi Coertse Wien.JPG
Mimi Coertse in Vienna
Maria Sophia Coertse

(1932-06-12) 12 June 1932 (age 90)
NationalitySouth African citizenship
EducationHelpmekaar Kollege
OccupationOpera singer (Soprano)
Spouse(s)Dawid Engela (1953-57)
Diego Brighi (1965-69)
Werner Ackerman (1970-1994)
Children2 (adopted)

Mimi Coertse, DMS (born 12 June 1932) is a South African soprano.

On 26 January 2020, Mimi was also inaugurated as a living legend in the South African Legends Museum. She was one of only 20 legends from whom a bust was also made.

Early life[edit]

Coertse, born in Durban, matriculated at the Helpmekaar Girls High School in Johannesburg.[1]: 5  She began vocal studies in South Africa in 1949.[2] Her first vocal coach in Johannesburg was Aimee Parkerson.[3]

Her debut performance in South Africa was singing Handel's Messiah at the Johannesburg City Hall on 11 December 1951.[3] In July 1953 she married broadcaster and composer Dawid Engela.[1]: 5  She left South Africa in September 1953 for London, and then went via The Hague to Vienna. In January 1954 she started training with Maria Hittorff and Josef Witt.[3]

Opera career[edit]

Coertse made her debut in January 1955 as the "first flower girl" in Wagner's Parsifal at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Karl Böhm 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 the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte by Mozart and remained with the Vienna State Opera until 1978.[1] Her Covent Garden debut was in 1956, in the same role.[2]

Her roles were limited in the United Kingdom as the Equity boycott of South Africa due to Apartheid, prevented its members from having anything to do with South Africa's entertainment industry.[3]

Mimi Coertse in Johannesburg, next to a sculpture depicting her

Coertse sang the soprano part in Bach's Matthäus-Passion at Fritz Wunderlich's first appearance in Vienna in 1958, when he performed 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.[citation needed]

In 1965, she sang Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Vienna State Opera which also featured Fritz Wunderlich as Belmonte. In 1966, Mimi was honoured by the President of Austria with the title Österreichischer Kammersänger, for her ten years of work as a permanent member at the Vienna State Opera.[1]: 5 

Her repertoire also includes:

Later years[edit]

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. She returned to the Vienna State Opera for a single farewell performance as Elisabetta in Don Carlo on 14 December 1978.

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 and through the Mimi Coertse Bursary.

In 1996, Austria's Federal Ministry for Science and Art awarded her the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art (Austrian Honour, first class) honour, the highest honour an artist can receive in that country.[4]

In 1998, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Pretoria and another in 2013 from the Unisa.[1] In 2002 she would receive the Golden Rathausmann from the mayor of Vienna.[1]

In 1998, 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.[5]

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 National Botanical Garden (Johannesburg) and the Civic Theatre (Johannesburg).[citation needed]

On 26 January 2020, Mimi was also inaugurated as a living legend in the South African Legends Museum. She was one of only 20 legends from whom a bust was also made.

Personal life[edit]

Coertse was married three times. Coertse's first marriage was to South African composer Dawid Engela in 1953 but the marriage ended in divorce in 1957.[1]: 5  Her second marriage was to Italian business man Diego Brighi in 1965 and was again divorced in 1969.[1]: 5  Her last marriage was to a businessman, Werner Ackerman, in 1970 and lasted until 1994.[1]: 5  After five miscarriages, she would adopt a son and daughter, Werner and Mia.[1]

Honours and awards[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Teresa Coetzee (5 August 2017). "My lewe het verloop soos dit moet, se Mimi". Die Burger.
  2. ^ a b H. Rosenthal and J. Warrack, Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera (OUP, London 1974 printing).
  3. ^ a b c d de Beer, Diane (12 June 2012). "'Onse' Mimi Coertse - a formidable woman". IOL. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 1067. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
  5. ^ de Beer, Diane (9 September 2014). "Opera in limbo, facing reality of funds". IOL. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  6. ^ "Maria Coertse". whoswho.co.za. Retrieved 9 January 2018.


  • Helmuth Furch, 'Die Wiener Jahre von Kammersängerin Mimi Coertse,' ('The Viennese years of Kammersängerin Mimi Coertse'), Bulletin of Museums- und Kulturverein Kaisersteinbruch No. 41, 20–56, March 1996: also 'Mimi Coertse, die hochgeschätzte Konzert- und Liedsängerin' ('A reverence for a great Concert- and Lieder-singer'), ibid. No. 52, 33–54, December 1998.
  • Helmuth Furch, Eva Hilda Smolik and Elfriede Werthan, Kammersängerin Mimi Coertse, eine Wienerin aus Südafrika (Kammersängerin Mimi Coertse, a Viennese woman from South Africa) (with a preface by Marcel Prawy), (Vienna 2002).