Discovering talent through exploration of unique projects is one part of my job that I really love. You never know what production you’ll cross paths with while doing research and, as a result, which new artists you will be introduced to. That is pretty much the case with The Seven Deadly Sins, a concert being presented by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. It gave me an opportunity to learn about Wallis Giunta, a mezzo-soprano with an amazing repertoire. This Ottawa-born lady has performed the world over, including venues like The Metropolitan Opera, Oper Frankfurt and Le Théâtre du Châtelet. One trip to her You Tube page, and you quickly understand just how talented she is. Beyond her work on the great stages of the world and the other activities she is involved in, Giunta is also devoted to animal rights, particularly the rescue and rehabilitation of abandoned domestic rabbits. Her work for the cause is very cool, details of which can be found on her website.
We got an opportunity to have a quick chat with Giunta to discuss the show and a bit about her work. The Seven Deadly Sins concert plays at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra June 14th-15th, so be sure to get your tickets while they are available.
If you want to find out what Wallis Giunta is up to (A LOT, as you’ll soon find out in her answers), you can find and attend her performances listed on her website’s calendar.
1. The Seven Deadly Sins looks to be one intense concert, with a rather cool semi-staged production that has been spotlighted all over social media through photography and other visuals. Tell us a little bit about the concert, and your role within it.
This incredible piece of musical theatre by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht is essentially a satirical takedown of American capitalism, and I am the instrument of said takedown. My character, the protagonist, is a young woman named Anna from small-town Louisiana, who is sent out into the world by her family to make something of herself as a dancer. They expect her to send her money back home to them to build a little farm house. Weill & Brecht use her seven-year journey (and eventual disillusionment/fall from grace) as an opportunity to show the hypocrisy and innate “sinfulness” of the American Dream. Anna is presented as a sort of split personality, shared by two performers, sung (by myself), and danced (by my wonderful colleague Jennifer Nichols). We are two halves of one person – sisters, alter egos, mirror images, etc.
2. I can’t say your repertoire is fantastic, as that would be an understatement. From A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Nixon in China, you have been involved in incredibly diverse projects. Do you study a piece before deciding to take on a project, or is there another process you follow? How important was Seven Deadly Sins to you as a project to be a part of?
I usually find that I already have a sense of most of the repertoire I am asked to sing these days, and if it happens to be something I don’t know, I give it a gander and a listen and see what I think. I really can’t remember ever turning anything down because it wasn’t interesting enough! I could say I’ve been lucky to have been offered so many wild and unusual projects…but perhaps I attract those kinds of projects precisely because I am a wild and unusual artist? Who knows! This Sins concert was actually my idea, which I proposed to the TSO a few years ago. I’m so glad they were as excited about it as I am! It’s one of my all-time favourite pieces.
3. You’ve been singing from a very young age. At what point did you decide that the mezzo-soprano route, or more generally the opera route, was the one you wanted to take?
I decided on opera at age 15 after singing in the chorus for Madama Butterfly, and then “came out” as a mezzo at age 19, after nearly 10 years of feeling pressured to be a soprano in my youth.
4. What is fascinating, and quite amazing, is just how much diverse education you decided to dive into: programs from The Glenn Gould School, to the Canadian Opera Company, to The Juilliard School. Why was it important to do so? Did mentors emerge from these opportunities that you are still in touch with today?
In hindsight, it was all important because it’s made me into the artist I am today. At the time, it just seemed like the thing to do! Yes, I’ve definitely had wonderful mentors in my training years, and I keep in touch with ALL of them! I even still take lessons and coaching’s, of course.
5. Everything you are up to is exciting. What is next on your plate over the coming months?
Well, I’ve got another Seven Deadly Sins in a few weeks, with the symphony in Sevilla; a Ring Cycle with the opera in Leipzig; a solo Canadian art song Recital in Ottawa with Steven Philcox; a Bach B Minor Mass; and two role debuts – the title role in Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, and Dinah in Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, both in the U.K. with Opera North. That takes us into August…