There is nothing I love more than to support those whose work not only impresses audiences from all over but also has the power to make the next musical generation fall in love with classical legends. Wallis Giunta’s enthusiasm sparked my attention a few years back while working with her on an opera gala production at Roy Thomson Hall. To this day, this mezzo soprano still doesn’t cease to amaze me with her charm, creative enthusiasm and sense of style.
This month Wallis will be going to her native city of Ottawa where she will participate in a celebratory performance honouring conductor Pinchas Zukerman as he marks a close with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Come July, before she jets off to sing several roles with Oper Leipzig, Wallis will take part at the Music & Beyond festival. As a fashion ambassador for McCaffrey Haute Couture, she has wowed the crowd with her selection of stage costumes.
MC: How does it feel to perform a concert that will mark the end of era with the departure of Pinchas Zukerman?
WG: It is a major honour, of course, and quite an interesting coincidence as well. Maestro Zukerman’s first season as Artistic Director of the NACO (1999/2000), was also the season I first performed at the National Arts Centre, as a 13 year-old member of the Ottawa Central Children’s Choir. That was an important year for both of us (in very different ways, of course), and it is quite special that I am able to be a part of his final season.
MC: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is not only one of the most famous classical compositions of all time but also powerful and contagiously courageous. How does this piece affect you in performance?
WG: It fills me with joy, and also with reverence. Can you imagine that this composer was almost completely deaf when he wrote it? For something so joyful and profound to be created by this masterful composer who would never even be able to hear it – that is some pretty powerful stuff.
MC: How do you prepare yourself for repertoire like this?
WG: Luckily, I learned this piece a few years ago in school, so it’s easily in my voice already. We will have a few rehearsals with Maestro Zukerman in the week leading up to the performances, but it should come together quite easily. Our Maestro and his orchestra have played it many times before.
MC: You’ll be wearing McCaffrey Haute Couture which is actually based in Ottawa. Can you share more about the dress(es)?
WG: Yes! David and I have been collaborating for over 5 years now, and we have a wonderful collection of gowns that he has created exclusively for my performances. I haven’t yet chosen which two I will wear on June 19th and 20th, but I can guarantee that they’ll be showstoppers. It happens every time I walk out on stage in a concert – I hear people gasp and whisper “oh, wow, look at that dress”. David is a master in his own right, and I am so privileged to have his support and creative collaboration.
MC: What are the advantages of performing at festivals, compared to stand alone recitals, concerts, operas, etc.
WG: Performing within a festival environment is exciting because of the concentration of creativity all in one place – festivals inspire audiences to explore repertoire and styles that are new to them, and take in more performances than they otherwise would. As a performer, that means we can often connect with people who normally wouldn’t choose to attend our shows, and maybe we can open some new minds to classical music. It’s also a lovely experience as a colleague, to have so many peers all together, usually in the summer, in a more relaxed environment. I am really looking forward to Music & Beyond, and to taking in some of the other concerts on my days off.
Opera Atelier Alcina
MC: You will be performing quite a variety of repertoire. How do you transition from one musical number to another?
WG: I love creating programs with variety! It’s a lot of fun for me as a performer. I also happen to have this unusually wide range of stylistic ability – people tell me I’m much more versatile than the average classical singer. So, I try to capitalize on that. Shifting from one style to another is not a vocal challenge for me, but it does require some preparation from an artistic point of view. Thought goes into the order of the pieces on the program, so the transitions make sense. In the moment, I just wipe the slate clean for each new song, and treat it as its own 3-4 minute opera.
Photo Credits: Gerard Collett, Michael Edwards and MIV Photography
Visit WallisGiunta.com to learn about her upcoming performances!