Friday, January 14, 2011

The Berlin Nightingale Miliza Korjus

Korjus, Gravet & Rainer in The Great Waltz
As the actress Luise Rainer celebrated her 101st birthday on January 12 we reflect upon one her co-stars, coloratura soprano Miliza Korjus, in the 1938 film The Great Waltz.

Born August 18, 1909, to an Estonian father in the Imperial Russian Army and a mother of Lithuanian-Polish nobility she received her musical training in Kiev. After a singing tour of the Baltic states and Germany, she married physicist Kuno Foelsch in 1929. She began her career at the Berlin State Opera in 1933. An MGM executive heard her recordings and
signed her "sight-unseen" to a 10-year film contract.

She arrived in Hollywood in 1936 and made her first film, the story of which was based loosely on the life of Johann Strauss II. Her role was that of an opera singer and she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Filming for her second picture Sandor Rozsa, a story based on the outlaw of the early 19th century who ambushed the wealthy as they traveled between Budapest and Vienna with music derived from Liszt and arranged by Emmerich Kalman, was delayed because of her involvement in a car accident that nearly caused doctors to amputate her leg. The film was eventually canceled.

After recovering, she sang a concert tour of South America and when she reached Mexico she decided to stay through the duration of World War II. While there she made one Spanish film Caballería del imperio (1942).

A Carnegie Hall concert in October 1944 marked her return to the United States. Making a home in Los Angeles, she continued concert engagements until 1952 when she married Dr. Walter Shector and decided to begin her own company, Venus Records, to release her own recordings.

She was a member of California's high society and was often sought out by sopranos Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills for advice. She died of heart attack in August 1980.

Her daughter Melissa F. Wells was born in Estonia in 1932 and for over forty years was a career member of the US foreign service. Notably, she served as US Ambassador to Estonia between 1998-2001.

More images from the MGM film The Great Waltz featuring Miliza Korjus, Luise Rainer and Fernand Gravet:

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