9-year old Dutch singer: opera diva or fame victim
The judges went numb when Amira Willighagen from Nijmegen sang O Mio Babbino Caro from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi in an impossible-to-believe powerful voice.
"Are you really nine years old?" judge Chantal Janzen asked. "This is incredible."
The choice of the aria was also surprising as its actual lyrics can be loosely translated from Italian as something like “Oh, dearest daddy, I so much want to marry my boyfriend that if you don’t let me buy a wedding ring I’ll jump in the river, please let me daddy, pretty please.”
The girl was so charming in her naiveté when explaining the choice and her particular passion for opera:
"My brother Vincent plays violin, and I also wanted to do something … so I thought, I'm going to sing … and then I heard opera songs, which I found very beautiful and that's when I started singing," she said.
A YouTube video of her performance has already been viewed over 1mln times, while the gig itself won her a "golden ticket" that will take her straight to the competition's live show.
One commenter said: "Stop the auditions we have a winner," while another added: "Congratulations little girl, you just won the internet!
What makes the public go even wilder is the fact that Amira revealed: she had not had any singing lessons but was self-taught, using YouTube tutorials.
Her story may at first resemble the one of Susan Boyle that astounded the world with her breathtaking rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Before the show, the middle-aged woman from a village called Blackburn never had a driver's license lived in the same rented house since she was born alone with her cat, Pebbles and was bullied by local kids for spinster image.
All it took was an appearance on "Britain's Got Talent," and YouTube top for Boyle to become a worldwide sensation.
Then, the Christian Science Monitor has explained her phenomenon as “redefining grace, beauty and successes” and this seems quite fair – people love Cinderella-like stories. But what about 9-year-old Amara Willighagen? Is the girl on her way to stardom or is she on a dangerous path of further martyrdom?
The Washington Post journalist and classical music critic Anne Midgette inclines to the second opinion. She begins her review of the girl’s performance with the statement that“O mio babbino caro” arias has recently become a must-sing for almost all young sopranos showcasing themselves on the variety of talent shows. “Dissociated from all vestiges of their original meaning or style, these arias have become a meme, a vehicle for a certain kind of popular crossover pseudo-operatic sound”, she wrote, and moving to the girl’s performance.
The critic’s idea is that very often it happens that one of these singers becomes beloved of all but a handful of people like her “who take on the role of sour-faced purists as we try to explain that the singer in question is doing it all wrong and the aria is capable of communicating so much more when it is sung with real vocal technique and an actual understanding of the words”, she says.
Anne by no means criticizes the little girl and her effort and talent. What is certainly more important to her is the motivation of parents who might have been behind the choice of the aria and the girl’s overall image. Anne warns about early popularity that can actually ruin the girl’s life. “Amira Willighagen may be a flash in the pan, she may start giving stadium concerts, she may mature into a well-rounded artist; and whatever the world makes of her – and the comments on the video have already started to draw up lines between the “innocent angel” and the “ruining her voice” camps – is eminently not her fault. But in the immediate future, her encounters with the world will be colored by the experience of this first, rapturous reception,” she concludes.
History, unfortunately, knows many examples when child prodigies ended up in nothing or even, worse, failed to survive the Gloria Mundi, which fades away so fast. Thus, the Russia prodigy of the 1970s, Nika Turbina, whose deep and astonishingly mature poems were so hard to attribute to the 10-year-old girl. The fame was overwhelming and global, when her book won the Golden Lion of Venice award, but the girl grew up and her poems were nothing special. She allegedly committed suicide falling out of the window at the age of 28.
Ellen Winner, professor of psychology at Boston College and author of 'Gifted Children: Myths and Realities', says that life can be difficult for a child prodigy and they often fulfill their parents’ ambitions. So kids are being told to practice more and try harder, placed to schools for gifted kids and, in fact, sometimes deprived of childhood.
According to the expert, problems tend to come when the child becomes older - and his or her peers catch up in terms of achievement.
"The skill of being a child prodigy is different to being a skilled adult, when you need to be a creator," Prof Winner said.
"Most of them do not make the transition. It can be very narcissistically wounding because suddenly they are not special." So her advice is "parents have to want their child and not make them feel they are living through their talent. I would say, listen to your child and enable them to do what they want to do."
So, it’s better not to push too hard in pursuit of excellency or fame and let a child’s talents develop naturally.