“Don’t you dare retire! With that tiger still burning inside of you, you have lots to do. We are going to need people like you to pass on your talent, teach our young… they need people like you. I salute you Mimi. I love you… Ek het jou baie lief. And I want to wish you laughter and happiness, because in the end it’s all that really matters. God bless you.”
– Taubie Kushlick (1986)
Great Interpreters: Mimi Coertse
Broadcast on Fine Music Radio on 15 June 2012.
Kammersängerin Mimi Coertse (b. 12 June 1932) holds a position unique amongst South African performing artists, being arguably the most popular classical performing artist that this country has produced. She is a cultural icon and her career is the stuff of legends. Here in South Africa and also in Vienna, she is still celebrated and fondly remembered for the many extraordinary performances that she gave at some of the world’s foremost concert halls and opera houses, most notably the State Opera in Vienna, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Musikverein in Vienna, the Salzburg Festival and the San Carlo Opera House in Naples.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Coertse the day before her 80th birthday for a special edition of Great Interpreters. In compiling this programme, I realised afresh the singular beauty of that voice and the magnitude of her accomplishments. One only has to look at the calibre of artists with whom she has shared the stage to realise with what we are dealing here: singers Christa Ludwig, Boris Christoff, Tito Gobbi, Giuseppe di Stefano, Joan Sutherland, Fritz Wunderlich, Leontyne Price, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Luciano Pavarotti, opera directors such as Otto Schenk and Franco Zeffirelli, and conductors of the stature of Herbert von Karajan, Karl Böhm, Dimitri Mitropoulos and Leonard Bernstein – these are but some of the remarkable artists with whom Coertse has collaborated.
It is unfortunate that once an artist, such as Coertse, has become entrenched in public consciousness, as she has been, it often happens that the artist’s true artistic achievements are overshadowed by the more trivial and sentimental nature and appreciation of their art. In Coertse’s case, for example, we know her predominantly as a singer who has become entrenched in popular Afrikaans culture for her renditions of “O Boereplaas” and “Heimwee”, without any real comprehension or knowledge of her numerous other artistic achievements. It therefore gives me great pleasure to share with you some of her earliest recordings, which provide a true glimpse of an artist at her sublime best.
Today, at the age of 80, Coertse is still involved in the training and development of young singers and she frequently serves on the panels of various international singing competitions. A compassionate human being, Coertse has served her community and country, not only through her art, but also through her involvement with various charitable organisations. Her infectious laughter is indicative of her remarkable zest for life and her vivacious personality.
Echoing the words of her erstwhile drama teacher, Taubie Kushlick, we can but say: Mimi, we salute you.