André Rieu concerts are a spectacle. His Johann Strauss Orchestra dresses impeccably, with the men in suits, and the women in glamorous, sparkly dresses. The stage is adorned with drapes and flowers, and even the score stands are elaborate and glitzy. If you want to put on the Ritz, an André Rieu concert is definitely an option. The venue featured in our first video is especially festive. For the tenth anniversary of his Vrijthof Square concerts in Maastricht (his home town), Rieu went all out.
On 11 and 12 July 2014, Vrijthof Square was decked out in Venetian style, described on Rieu’s website as being “complete with a Doge’s Palace, Rialto Bridge, a fabulous Italian fountain and a colourful Venetian masquerade”. The concerts were recorded for the CD & DVD Love in Venice (2014). The extract from the DVD that we are highlighting is André Rieu on violin with young soprano Amira Willighagen singing O Mio Babbino Caro by Giacomo Puccini (with the libretto by Giovacchino Forzano). Enjoy:
Music Man readers outside of Holland might not know Amira Willighagen. In October 2013, 9-year-old Amira Willighagen won Holland’s Got Talent on the strength of her opera singing. During the competition she sang O Mio Babbino Caro, Gounod’s Ave Maria and, for the final, Puccini’s Nessun Dorma. She was soon featured on other TV shows in the Netherlands, as well as broadcasts in Germany, Argentina, and South Africa (her mother’s country of origin).
Willighagen released her debut album, Amira, in the Netherlands on 28 March 2014. It went Gold in two weeks and set the scene for her appearance with Rieu in July 2014. Keshari Suthar comments on the video: “Andre Rieu and his fabulous orchestra provide world class platform for upcoming singers like Amira. Her singing is singularly soulful, spellbinding, superb, sincere and sweet.” Amira Willighagen’s latest video (20 October 2023) is a collaboration with AGT 2019 finalists Ndlovu Youth Choir.
The song is Amen and, at the time of writing, it has 6.8K views in just three days. This song is going to be big!
Willighagen’s collaboration with the popular Ndlovu Youth Choir has to do with more than her mother’s South African background. Half of the profits from Amira’s concerts and music goes to her Stichting Gelukskinders (Lucky Children Foundation), which establishes and maintains playgrounds in South African townships. Apparently, the idea for the playgrounds germinated when 7-year-old Amira visited her South African grandmother.
She went outside to play and was alarmed by the lack of facilities. (Wikipedia writes that she was surprised that “the children from there didn’t have a proper playground, so they just ran and threw stones”). Just three years later, she opened her first playground in Ikageng, a township on the outskirts of Potchefstroom, South Africa. In January 2018, Amira moved to South Africa with her brother, Fincent, and mother, Frieda, after her parents separated.
Since relocating to South Africa, Willighagen has released music and performed extensively in both Europe (particularly Holland) and South Africa. Her most recent CD (September 2023) is a recording of a Christmas concert held in Bergeijk, Southern Netherlands, December 2022. At just 19-years-old Amira Willighagen has achieved a great deal and established the foundation for a successful career.
The final word can go to Raymond Morgan’s heartfelt YouTube comment on Amira Willighagen appearance with André Rieu: “This performance will be marked as one of the greatest ever taking music and our emotions to new heights. A 10 year old Dutch-speaking girl singing complex Italian effortlessly from one of the world’s most emotional operatic arias. The final word is Pietà which means Mercy or Pity: and it is heart-breaking to hear such a young girl Prolong those notes with such skill, feeling and intensity – and show it in her eyes – especially as she had just sung O Dio Vorrei Morir – O God I should want to die. Thank-you.”
If you would like to see more from Amira Willighagen, you can subscribe to their YouTube channel or follow them on Facebook. You can also visit their official website for more information.