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Miliza Korjus – The Berlin Nightingale
 
Miliza Elizabeth Korjus was born in Warsaw, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire), where her father Arthur Korjus, an Estonian lieutenant colonel in the Imperial Russian Army and later Chief of Staff to the War Minister of Estonia, was stationed. She was the fifth of six children of Arthur and Anna Gintown, a descended from the noble Lithuanian-Polish family of Gintovt-Dzevaltovsky.
 
According to some sources, the Serbian name of "Miliza" was given to the girl to honor the Great Dutchess Miliza Nikolajevna.
 
During the Great War, Arthur's unit was transferred to Moscow, where Emily (the name given to her in Moscow) enrolled into the Elizabeth School.
 
During the Russian revolution, her mother and father moved to Moscow and separated, with Miliza, together with her mother and siblings, moving from Moscow to the quieter Kiev in 1918, with the breakout of the Civil War. There Korjus started her musical training, and as a teenager toured the Soviet Union with the Ukrainian choir Dumka. 
 
In 1927, while performing in Leningrad, she decided to try her luck in the West and, gathering all her courage, secretly crossed into Estonia, reuniting with her father and later starting a singing career in Europe.
 
In Estonia she married German physicist Kuno Foelsch and moved with him to Berlin, where she was invited to the Berlin State Opera in 1933. There, her talent began to shine, and soon she earned the nickname "The Berlin Nightingale".
 
Their daughter, Melissa F. Wells,  was a career officer of the US foreign service for four decades, and was appointed US Ambassador to Estonia in 1998.
 
One day, American film producer Irving Thalberg came across one of her recordings and, after hearing her sing, sent her a signed 10 year film contract, sight unseen! The film, The Great Waltz (1938), was an astonishing success for the singer: she earned high praise from critics, who noted her resemblance to Mea West, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Korjus was to star in another Hollywood film in 1940, but an automobile accident sent her to a hospital bed for several years, so the film, where she was to play the lead role, had to be cancelled...
 
Later, after recuperation, she went on a successful tour of South America, and, due to the breakout of World War II, decided that it would be safer to stay in Mexico. During her stay, she starred in the Spanish-language film Caballería del Imperio.
 
In 1944, Korjus finally returned to the United States, and started a series of performances at Carnegie Hall. She also toured the country extensively until her marriage to Walter Shector, a physician, in 1952 – she decided to retire from the stage and concentrated on studio work. She even founded the Venus Records company to release many of her earlier recordings.
 
Miliza Korjus died of heart failure aged 71, in Culver City, California,
 
Sources:
Miliza Korjus – Internet Movie Database
Opera Fresh – 14 January 2011
 

 


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