1909 - 1980
Miliza Korjus was born in Warsaw in 1909 while her father, Artur Korjus, a colonel in the Imperial Russian Army, was posted there. Artur Korjus was an Estonian of Swedish descent, whose family had settled in Estonia during the seventeenth century when the country was ruled by Sweden. The original Swedish spelling of the family name was "Corjus" but later came to be spelled "Korjus" in Estonian. Miliza's mother was Anna Gintowt, who was descended from Lithuanian-Polish nobility. Miliza was the fifth of six children (she had one brother, and four sisters). Her mother and father separated during the Russian revolution and in 1918 she moved to Kiev with her mother and sisters.
While still in her teens, she joined the Dumka Choir in Kiev and toured the Soviet Union. During a Dumka tour in Leningrad in 1927, she crossed the border into Estonia and joined her father who had settled there after Estonia won its independence from Russia. While in Estonia, Miliza studied with the well-known voice teacher, Barbara Malama. Often during her life when asked with whom she trained, she would refer to Malama and credit her for teaching her superb breath control. Miliza also repeatedly emphasized how much the recordings of Tetrazzini and Galli-Curci had influenced her technique.
She began making concert appearances in the Baltic states and Scandinavia. In Estonia Miliza met Dr. Kuno Foelsch, a physicist, and married him in 1929. The couple moved to Germany and she continued her concert career there and throughout Europe. In 1933 she was engaged by Max von Schillings for the Berlin State Opera. Her opera roles included, among others, Gilda in Rigoletto, Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Violetta in La Traviata, Lucia in Lucia de Lammermoor, and her greatest success as the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute. Between 1934 and 1936 Miliza made forty-two recordings for Electrola in Germany. She did not consider popular recordings beneath her dignity; the compositions she sang ranged from operatic arias, Viennese operetta, German lieder, and Spanish, Italian and Russian songs. Her operatic appearances and recordings quickly propelled her to the forefront of European singers.
Miliza's records were heard by Irving Thalberg of MGM studios, who in 1936 signed her "sight unseen" to a 10-year film contract. Her first film, The Great Waltz based on the life of Johann Strauss II, was released in 1938. The film was well received and Miliza was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress. In reviewing the film, the critic for the New York Herald Tribune wrote: "… it is however, Miliza Korjus' picture throughout. Her personality was magnetic. Will there ever be another to sing waltzes with such bravado?"
A second film with the title Guns and Fiddles, based on the story of Sandor Rozsa (a kind of Hungarian Robin Hood), was to begin production at MGM in 1940. Miliza was to play Sandor's gypsy love. The music for the film was derived from Liszt and arranged by Emmerich Kalman. Just weeks before the scheduled production date of this new film, Miliza suffered serious injuries in an auto accident.
One year later, Miliza had sufficiently recovered to undertake a concert tour of Latin America. She made one film in Mexico in 1942, Caballeria del Imperio, set during the ill-fated reign of the Emperor Maximilian.
In 1944 Miliza returned to the U.S. to appear at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. In reviewing the concert, Virgil Thompson of the New York Herald Tribune wrote: "She has a voice with coloratura work that seems almost unbelievable for beauty of tone, accuracy of pitch, musicianly rhythm and phrasing, and a velocity unknown since the early days of the century."
Miliza made concert appearances throughout North America during the late 1940s, and eventually settled in Los Angeles. In 1952 she remarried -- Dr. Walter Shector, a physician -- and retired from the stage, preferring instead to make recordings. She remained a bright fixture in southern California society and was greatly admired and sought out by visiting artists such as Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills, Rudolph Nureyev and Maya Plisetskaya of the Bolshoi Ballet. She died of heart failure in August 1980.