Amira Willighagen (born March 27, 2004) is a Dutch soprano singer who won the sixth season of Holland's Got Talent in 2013, at the age of 9.
Amira Willighagen grew up surrounded by classical music. At the age of seven she looked at her brother Fincent playing the violin, their mother Frieda also played the violin and the father Gerrit played the piano. She didn't know to play instruments, so she tried to sing vocally. At the beginning, before taking singing lessons, Willighagen learned by herself to sing opera arias, using Youtube tutorials. That's how she discovered her talent and passion for music. Even her mother was surprised when heard her the first time singing. Two of the first public appearances took place in 2012, at the "Music makes Friends" festival in Colmschate (accompanied by her family) and as solo singer in the Emmaus Children's Choir, singing a Dutch version of the song "Nella Fantasia". After two years of practice and performance improvement, her mother considered that she is ready to participate in the show Holland's Got Talent. Indeed, she won the admiration of the jury, the public and millions of people from all over the world who saw her on television and on the Internet.
Holland's Got Talent
Willighagen auditioned for Holland's Got Talent and so impressed the judging panel with her version of "O Mio Babbino Caro" from Puccini's opera Gianni Schicchi that within seconds the judges were staring in awe and disbelief. Her performance rapidly became a YouTube hit with over 39 million viewers as of October 2019. In the semi-finals, she performed Gounod's "Ave Maria". "You're a star who belongs on stage!", said Dan Karaty, one of the judges, after her performance in the semi-finals. In the final she sang "Nessun Dorma", from Puccini's opera Turandot. She won the competition with over 50% of the votes of the TV-viewers and audience.
After the success from Holland's Got Talent, during 2014 Willighagen was invited to various TV shows: at South African Internet station Channel24, on March 21 at Omroep Gelderland (Netherlands), on May 11 at Life4You - Carlo & Irene on RTL 4 (Netherlands), on June 7 at Willkommen bei Carmen Nebel (Welcome to Carmen Nebel) on ZDF (Germany), at RTL (German TV channel), performing "I Have a Dream (song)", on August 20 at Susana Giménez on Telefe (Argentina), on December 21 at Du côté de chez Dave on France 3.
In February 2014, Willighagen recorded her debut album, Amira, accompanied by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The album contains 10 tracks including the songs she performed during Holland's Got Talent. Other tracks from this album are "Nella Fantasia", "Song To The Moon", "Pie Jesu" from Requiem (Lloyd Webber). The album was released in the Netherlands on March 28, reaching a Gold status only two weeks later. André Rieu invited Willighagen to follow a masterclass in London, after a member of his orchestra saw her in the Holland's Got Talent audition, on YouTube. Then, on July 11 and 12, she appeared with André Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra in Maastricht, during the recording of the album Love in Venice.
Willighagen's first international performances took place at the Starlight Classics Concerts in Somerset West, South Africa on February 28 and March 1, 2014. On April 30, 2014, she performed in Las Vegas as part of the prize she received when winning Holland's Got Talent. Amira's performances include appearances in Netherlands, South Africa, Belgium, USA, Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, Poland, Hong Kong, Argentina, Mexico, Malta, Monaco, Iceland, Austria, Botswana.
According to statements on her website, with half of the revenue she makes by performing and her album sales, Willighagen supports her own charity project, Stichting Gelukskinders (Lucky Children Foundation), to build playgrounds for poor children of South African townships. The idea of creating playgrounds came up when she went to South Africa, to visit her grandmother, at the age of seven. She went outside to play, like any child, but the children from there didn't have a proper playground, so they just ran and threw stones. Astonished and disappointed, she has thought: "When I will have money, I will make a playground for these children." That's exactly what she did: after only three years, on March 5 2014, she opened the first playground in Ikageng, a township near Potchefstroom, South Africa. To formalize development and maintenance of playgrounds, Willighagen's Gelukskinders Foundation was established on November 1, 2014. On behalf of her foundation, Willighagen opened a second playground in Ikageng on August 1, 2016. Amira opened a third playground, Amira Park - Sarafina, which was completed on January 20, 2017. Amira opened her fourth playground in South Africa on June 20, 2017. Amira Park #4 was opened in Promosa. On June 11, 2018, Amira opened her 5th playground at Lesego Primary School which included carousel, swings, slide, and a sandbox. In July and August 2019 were opened six new playgrounds at schools near Potchefstroom, their number reaching 13. Other charitable actions worth mentioning are her participation in fundraising, for the victims of the Haiyan typhoon in Philippines (on November 18, 2013) and for Unicef (on July 16, 2014).
On November 8, 2014, Willighagen visited the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome to receive the International Giuseppe Sciacca Award 2014. In November 2015, Willighagen released her second album, Merry Christmas. Besides a selection of well-known Christmas carols ("O Holy Night", "Silent Night", "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"), the album contains various famous arias and hymns ("Panis angelicus", "Ave Maria (Vavilov)"). The albums Amira and Merry Christmas were produced by the record label Sony Masterworks. She held also Christmas concerts, on December 15 2014, at the Royal Albert Hall London, on December 19 2015, in the Petrus Canisius Church in Nijmegen, The Netherlands (where she sang "See, amid the Winter's Snow", "Panis angelicus", "Sancta Maria" and "Ave Maria" by Gomez), on December 21 2015, in the St. Jacobs Church, The Hague, on December 16 2017, in the St. Steven's Church in Nijmegen (where she performed "Dormi, Fili", "Onse Vader", "Jerusalem", "Panis Angelicus", "See, amid the Winter's Snow", "Stille Nacht / Silent Night" and "How Great Thou Art"), on December 15 2019, in Nijmegen ("Joy to the World" was one of the songs in the program), on December 16 2019 in Dreumel.
On April 4, 2015, Willighagen was invited as a guest at the Sanremo Junior Festival in Malta. In September 2015 she participated in the show "Superkids - die größten kleinen Talente der Welt" ("Superkids - the biggest little talents in the world"), broadcast by the German TV station Sat.1, where she performed "Ave Maria (Vavilov)". In November 2016 she performed "Nella Fantasia", in the Afrikaans Is Groot concert. On November 23, 2016, she sang also at the Conservatory of the North West University, Potchefstroom. On December 2, 2017, Willighagen participated in the Max Proms concert, held in Utrecht, performing a short version of "O Mio Babbino Caro" and "Your Love" (the theme of the movie "Once Upon a Time in the West"). On March 2 and 3, 2018, she sang again at the RMB Starlight Classics concert.
At the end of July 2016 Willighagen performed at the Classics Is Groot concert held in Pretoria, South Africa, where she sang "O Mio Babbino Caro", "O sole mio" (in duet with Patrizio Buanne), "Nella Fantasia" ("In My Fantasy"), composed by Ennio Morricone (originally released by Sarah Brightman in 1998) and the well-known song "My Way" (together with the other artists). At Classics Is Groot 2017 she performed "Nessun Dorma", "Flower Duet" (with Corlea Botha), "Amazing Grace" and "My Way" (in group). At Classics Is Groot 2018 Willighagen sang "Gabriellas sång" - with lyrics in Swedish (from the soundtrack of the movie "As It Is in Heaven"), "Hallelujah" (from the album With All My Heart), "Amigos Para Siempre" (in duet with Patrizio Buanne) and "Keeping the Dream Alive" (together with the other singers). In July 2019, at Classics Is Groot, she performed a medley from the musical "The Sound of Music": "Prelude / The Sound of Music (song)", "Edelweiss (song)" and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain".
On March 2, 2018 Willighagen's long-anticipated album With All My Heart was released in South Africa, later digitally worldwide, under the Coleske Artists label. The album marks a change in her singing career from opera to classical crossover. Several tracks were written especially for her (for instance "Drift Away" and "In The Stars"). Songs like "With All My Heart", "I Will Be With You" and a cover of "Gabriellas sång" are potential hits. Amira also sings duets with Corlea Botha ("Flower Duet"), Patrizio Buanne ("’O sole mio" and "Amigos Para Siempre") and Ruhan du Toit ("Follow Your Heart").
Willighagen collaborated also with other artists: Ben Heijnen (Huizen, Netherlands, December 9, 2016), Gissur Páll Gissurarson (Reykjavík, Iceland, December 2015), Paul Potts and James Bhemgee (Durban, South Africa, August 9, 2014).
On January 1 2018, Amira, her brother, Fincent and mother, Frieda moved to South Africa. During an interview in a Dutch regional newspaper, they stated the Dutch school system didn't offer Willighagen sufficient flexibility for performances. Also, Willighagen's new, South African manager planned to include fewer, longer tours. In an earlier interview Amira's mother (of South African origin) revealed that she and the children's father had parted.
Willighagen released two videos: "Ave Maria (Vavilov)", from the album Merry Christmas and "In The Stars", from the album With All My Heart. She also has performances featured on five DVDs and five CDs: Afrikaans Is Groot 2016, Classics Is Groot 2016, Classics Is Groot 2017, Classics Is Groot 2018 and Classics Is Groot 2019, all published by Coleske Artists. The song "Barcelona", performed by Willighagen in duet with Ruhan du Toit, is included on Touch Of Class's album, More Magic.
Among the concerts in 2019 can be mentioned: on March 21 in Sun Arena, Pretoria (with Helmut Lotti), on April 16 at Durbanville High School (with the Tygerberg Childrenschoir), on July 19 and 20 at Classics Is Groot, Sun Arena, Pretoria, on August 10 in Kasane, Botswana, near a huge baobab (with Andre Swartz and Jannie Moolman), on September 14 at Louis Trichard Emmanuel Christian School, Zoutpansberg, on October 5 in Bloemfontein (with Jannie Moolman), on October 23 at Nelson Mandela University Auditorium, Port Elizabeth (with Corlea Botha), on December 1 in Turnhout, Belgium (with Marjolein Acke, Anne Keizer and the Cantabile choir, to mark Gelukskinders Foundation's 5th anniversary).
As a recognition of her talent, Willighagen received on November 9 2019, the International Mediterranean best female opera star 2019 award, for "extraordinary skills in the sector of music" and "the will to contribute and to foster friendly relations and peace between nations, independently of their political regimes, race, local traditions and religions". This award was given during the International Organization for Diplomatic Relations (IODR) gala in Naples. At this event she performed the song "’O sole mio", in duet with the Italian tenor Fabio Armiliato.
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