"La Scala" Opera House in Milan, Italy.
The human voice has the power to reach the soul , more so than any instrument. A big church organ, piano or violin comes close- but the human voice singing - evokes such emotion in me that I can involuntary choke up while listening to it.
As a boy growing up in South Africa I was blessed with a good boy's soprano voice .I even did some recordings for the SABC of children's songs composed by Maria van der Mark with my friend Famke Boersma.
I won the Johannesburg Eisteddfod's gold diploma for boys singing in my age group from the age of 8 until I was 13 years old. The judges were singers like Esther Mentz - who was Emma Renzi's first singing teacher -en Anna Elizabeth Pohl.
When I was 14 my voice has still not broken and I was still a boy's soprano.
When I got to Linden High School and they discovered that I could sing ,I sang the soprano role in the Cantata "Ruth" by J. Witty .In the above article dated August 3 1962 I got a mention-and the voice reminded the author of the Vienna Boys Choir- no less.When my voice broke and it was all over. I could still sing but became a second tenor in the chorus.
I still remember the power I felt when I walked onto a brightly lit stage with a big black grand piano to sing.The look of awe when the sound reached people ears and they became still and listened to the story you were telling. I could not wait for the climax of the song and the high notes that I could sing so well as a boy soprano. At that moment I had the audience in the palm of my hand and it was a wonderful feeling.
I can understand why so many singers do not want to give up this power and crave the applause that comes soon after that .
My stupid little voice was nothing in comparison to the glorious voices of professional opera singers but I do understand a little of their passion for this life in music.
The first opera I saw was "Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro". It was performed at the Civic Theater in Johannesburg in 1963 . Nellie Du Toit, Jossie Boshof and Leonora Veenemans were the singers.
When I was a fashion student in Cape Town in 1969 . I sang in the chorus for the Cape Town Opera (called CAPAB in those days.) The company was backed by the government and it was a professional choir. My first opera was Bizet's "Carmen" .Our Carmen was Nedda Casei from the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
"Carmen" Nedda Casei in the middle .
Here is Nedda Casei with Leontyne Price in "Madame Butterfly" at the Metropolitan Opera 1973
Nellie Du Toit.
The next opera was Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" with the South African soprano NELLIE DU TOIT and Ge Korsten. It was great to be part of the opera world and I love the first rehearsals with the orchestra when it all came together. Hearing these singers perform ,and to be part of it, was great.
Here is Nelly Du Toit singing "Ernani, Involami" from Ernani by Verdi .
I also heard the South African soprano JOYCE BARKER as "Turandot" for the first time and sang in the chorus for "Un Ballo in Maschera" "Fidelio" and "Martha" during this period.
I was hooked on opera and never looked back.
Here is Joyce Barker in Verdi's Requiem" Libera me"
Yours truly on the left.
Elsa Wolfaard and Henry Schickerling backstage Cape Town Opera 1969 "Ballo in Maschera"
Alhambra Theater. Cape Town.
Soon after that I left South Africa to study in Italy and that was the end of my singing - but not the end of my love for opera. Only the beginning....
Mimi Coertse. As Aithra on the right.
No South African opera lover could not be influenced by the South African soprano MIMI COERTSE. Specially if one was a Afrikaans speaking South African. We are so proud of her achievements.
Mimi left South Africa in 1953 to study in Vienna and in 1956 become a member of the Vienna State Opera at the tender age of 23 .She sang there until 1978 and had a spectacular career. In 1966 she became the first South African singer to become a Kamersängerin in Vienna .She was also know to be the soprano that performed with Fritz Wunderlich the most.
Mimi Coertse Strauss "Ariadne aus Naxos"
Coertse and Wunderlich.
In 1973 she returned to South Africa but still sang and promoted opera in South Africa- and internationally .
She is an icon in South Africa and in Vienna.
Here is Mimi Coertse as Tatania in "Mignon" by Thomas.
Recorded when she was 23 years old.
Mimi with Waldemar Kmett in Vienna 1978.
Personally she also inspired me .Whenever I felt lonely during my student days in Europe, I would think of her at the age of 23 in Vienna and I would man up and say to myself ;-
" You are not alone - Mimi did it and survived , so can you !"
I would have loved to design a gown for her, but that opportunity never came.
In 2000 I read an article in the Opera News about the just released set of the 1970 recording of Richard Strauss's "Agyptiesche Helena" with Joseph Krips from the Vienna State Opera .The singers were Gwyneth Jones, Jess Thomas and MIMI COERTSE as Aithra.
In the piece the writer said that Mimi stole the show in this recording, and that it was a must-have for every opera lover.I thought that she might like to have this article and wrote to my friend Renee who knew Mimi very well -and asked for her address .A few weeks later I received a very kind note from Mimi inviting me to visit her when I come to South Africa again.
A few months later I was back in South Africa and called her .I went to her house and after we went out to lunch, she invited me back and we spent the afternoon listening to her private recordings and talking about her life and career.She showed me some of her gowns that she had kept and wondered what would happen to them.
It was one of the highlights of my life to meet her and spend some time with her. I had been an admirer of hers for many years. She has a great sense of humor and can be very funny telling stories about her life. She also gave me some of her recordings that I did not have.
When her daughter Mia ,and her husband, came to New York to run in the NY Marathon ,I spent time with them as well.
Mimi , me and Renee.
When Jerry and I went back to visit South Africa a few years later Mimi graciously invited us to dinner and we had a great evening with her -and some other guests- at her beautiful home in Pretoria.
We have kept contact and I see her whenever possible when I am in South Africa.
She is an inspiration to many- me included.
Jerry in the light blue shirt -me in the white at the back.
Onse Mimi -better know as Kamersängerin Coertse.
Mimi Coertse 2014
When I went to Europe- and later the USA - I had the opportunity to go to the opera more often and the last 28 years in New York I had the Metropolitan Opera on my doorstep and attended the opera regularly ,seeing up to 15 operas a season. It has been a privilege that I appreciate every time.
Performer's view of the Metropolitan Opera's 4000 seats.
Jerry comes in from Pennsylvania and we go to the Saturday Matinees .These performances are usually broadcasted on the radio world wide and the High Definition Broadcasts are also the Saturday afternoon performances, so that Europe can see-and hear them .The performers are on their toes as they know the world is listening. These performances are very sought after and some people even will their subscriptions to their families.