About Cora

I always sang – on my bicycle, walking in the street, in my bed. I just loved it and did not give it much thought, until people started commenting on it. Only then did I learn that it apparently was a talent. I joined a choir in my hometown – the Dutch Nightingales – and was given the opportunity to sing my heart out with others and for others, and to go on tour to some wonderful places. So in addition to just enjoying the act of singing, I learned that if there are people listening, and I manage to surrender myself to the music and give it my all, music can unite and move people to tears. I was hooked. 

11. Cora Burggraaf � credits Sarah Wijzenbeek

And I was willing to work hard for it. It led me to study at the Royal Conservatoire of The Hague, Tanglewood Music Center, Britten Pears Young Artist Programme, the Royal College of Music in London and the Opera Studio, also in London. Wonderful teachers crossed my path: Maria Acda, Phyllis Ferwerda, Lillian Watson, Lucy Shelton – to name but a few. John Copley and Bert Luppes awoke the love for theatre in me and equipped me with acting and stage craft skills that I still use today. Of course there were many more that had a profound influence on my development.  And I have always continued having regular singing lessons. I still do. Sasja Hunnego and Margreet Honig have guided me along the way.

My first job after I graduated was a big one – the roller coaster had started. I sang Bella in Tippett’s Midsummer Marriage at the Royal Opera House in London – directed by Graham Vick. I loved every minute of it and had to pinch myself quite often on stage to believe it was really happening. Such luck!

I sang at wonderful opera houses in Europe and North America: De Nationale Opera (Amsterdam), San Fransisco Opera, Salzburger Festspiele, Bayerische Staatsoper (Munich), Welsh National Opera and more. Lots of Mozart roles: Cherubino, Dorabella, Susanna. A big highlight was singing Hänsel in Hänsel und Gretel in the magical Richard Jones production with the most lovely cast and team.

I did lots of other things beside opera. Loads of recitals and chamber music with amazing fellow musicians. I premiered newly composed pieces, sang with many orchestras. Two productions stand out: La voix humaine with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Seguin, directed by Mirjam Koen en Gerrit Timmers. And The Roaring Twenties with Calefax Reed Quintet, which we also recorded. I also sang and acted in theatre shows and performed in shows for kids. I enjoy exploring and am not afraid of trying new things.

This might all sound amazing – and it was – but not all went smoothly. I was often dealing with too much muscle tension on the left side of my body and pain in my hip, but no doctor could tell me exactly what was causing it. Something was out of balance. And my voice was seriously suffering. One rainy day I was standing in a grey parking lot after I had just been told that there was a cyst on one of my chords and it had to be removed. I did not take it well. The operation was successful but my voice did not really recover. The muscle tension was getting worse over the years and so was the pain in my left hip that I’d had for a long time. But as I absolutely adored singing and couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else, I kept going. With very mixed results. But I wasn’t willing to give it up. Singing and music was my way of communicating and understanding the world around me.

The long years in which I didn’t know what was going on were difficult. I thought that I could fix it with hard work – I had enough talent for singing and was getting the help of good teachers. But I was trying to compensate for something that was amiss and in doing so I was creating more tension. Failing in fixing it made me feel ashamed. The shame of failing, failing in the spotlights. Vocal trouble is still taboo in the classical singing world. And I hid. I found it very difficult to be open about it. I rather pretended everything was fine and kept my mouth shut.

It was a long period of reflection. On who I was without my voice. On my own definition of success, on the connection with an audience, on the role of classical music in society. 

And then covid hit. All my work came to a standstill, just like the world ground to a halt. The pain in my hip was so bad that I couldn’t walk without crutches anymore. Then one evening I lost my balance in the kitchen and my hip snapped. An ambulance took me to hospital where I finally learned what was going on: my hip bone contained what is called a giant-cell tumor (benign). A rare condition where, simply put, the bone erodes from the inside out. There was a big hole in my hip bone and all the muscles around it had been trying to keep it together for a very long time. No wonder it broke. Obviously, too much muscle tension has an enormous influence on the singing apparatus – a voice can’t ring freely and breath can’t flow when muscles are cramped and the nervous system is affected. Bad luck.

But the good news: in hospital I received a present on my birthday: a full hip replacement. Breaking my hip had a big impact. Slowly but surely, with the help of others, I managed to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Understanding the root of my vocal problems (and the added-on tension that was created by trying to compensate) helped me to accept the consequences and move on. This was a story I understood. This was the story of which I could turn the page and read on to see what the next chapter would bring. 

Weirdly enough it coincided with a new possible route. Not long before I was hospitalised, I had started exploring a new quest: how can I use my love for theatre and my skills and expertise on singing to create new, innovative performances? I had strong opinions and ideas about the classical vocal scene and opera, and was always searching for the relevance of this art form in today’s society and the connection to the issues of our contemporary lives. I had already tentatively initiated some projects of my own in previous years. And I enjoyed thinking along with stage directors – even envied them sometimes. 

While in hospital I was writing a plan for a New Makers Trajectory – a wonderful scheme by the Dutch Performing Arts Fund to enable new makers to develop further. 

Being granted this trajectory was a fantastic gift. It gave me the opportunity to put my money where my mouth was. From singing I turned to stage directing.

This of course did not happen overnight. And since the cultural sector was being hit badly by the consequences of covid, I founded a platform – www.samenuitthuis.nl – (‘going out together at home’) with two friends. Through this platform you can book wonderful musicians directly for a performance at your home, party or other event. No hidden costs, no dealings with a booking agent, and all your money goes to the artist. Even though covid is not effecting our mobility anymore, you can still book musicians on this platform. And let me tell you: having beautiful music played live in your home is a very special thing.

I was very happy when the world openend up again. Since being granted the New Makers Trajectory, I’ve created multiple performances, among which The Music is Present, Inner Voice and most recently Coming of Age. 

For my own projects I mostly create from scratch. It starts with a theme that seems to meander through my brain or that I see as a hot topic around me. Sometimes it starts with a book. Singing is always an element that I use, but not just for the sake of it. I only want to implement it of there’s a good reason. What is the added value of singing? What happens when a text is sung? I like to use both existing music and newly written music. 

I love the combination of acting and singing – the challenge of allowing the body to hold itself in such a way that the voice can run free and within that framework still find a way to surrender to the story and the character. In order to convincingly convey the phychologic journey.

Last but not least: I really enjoy teaching and coaching. Next to private singing teaching at home, I work as a guest director and coach at the Conservatoire of Amsterdam, Utrecht and The Hague.

It’s such a joy to guide the next generation of musicians and to discuss the future of classical music with them. To see the way forward for our niche, to define their possible role in it, to teach them acting skills and stage craft, to teach them how to use theatrical elements in the concert practice, how to use dramaturgy, to guide them on their first steps into the professional world. 

This is how my story unfolded so far. No idea what is coming next but it’s been an adventurous ride with wonderful people. I can’t wait to see what the next page will bring.

And yes, I still sing. 

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