Q&A: Catching up with Wallis Giunta

Wallis Giunta. Photo: Tim Dunk

Wallis Giunta has been spending a lot of time in Europe lately. In one of an occasional series of interviews with Ottawa artists doing well elsewhere, ARTSFILE’s Peter Robb caught up with the marvellous mezzo.

Q. It’s been awhile since you were here. Why have you gone to Europe?

A. I most recently sang in Ottawa last summer, for the Music & Beyond festival, and I’ll be back again this July for another recital and Bach’s wonderful B Minor Mass. I’ve been working in Europe on and off for several years, while still performing regularly back home, and I really appreciate the balance of having a strong base in Canada, and also challenging myself with new opportunities abroad.

I do have a “full-time” position at Oper Leipzig this season, but my schedule there is very light, so I’m able to come home often (this season I’ve also had a Messiah in Halifax, recitals in Vancouver, Dido & Aeneas in Toronto, and concerts with the TSO). And I have time to travel more internationally as well, singing in Japan, the U.K. and Spain. I think singers have to be both flexible and willing to roam if they want to grow as artists and really build their careers. Being in Europe for part of the season allows me to work on my languages, make wonderful new contacts and friends in the industry and build my repertoire at a faster pace.

Q. What kind of role(s) have you had with Oper Leipzig? How long are you staying there?

A. So far I’ve sung Cenerentola, Cherubino, Siébel and Rossweise in Die Walküre. Next season I’ll be adding Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus, Wellgunde in Das Rheingold, and the three pant-roles in Lulu. I’ve signed for two more years in Leipzig at this point, with some very exciting things coming up, but it’s by no means an exclusive contract.

Q. Tell me about your time in the U.K.

A. It was really lovely. I’ve been there many times, but only ever for short trips. To spend three months there, in the gorgeous northern cities, hiking on the moors and enjoying the delightful accents — it was a great time. And the audiences absolutely loved our performances of La Cenerentola. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a consistently enthusiastic response!

Q. Are there differences between working in Europe compared to New York or in Ottawa?

A. I do enjoy it very much. The main difference is the variety of languages you find yourself speaking in one day. I often find I switch between three or four hourly. I also find people are a bit less precious about classical music and preparation/rehearsals. They take it for granted that you are a professional and know what you’re doing and they just get down to business. Sometimes I find we don’t rehearse enough in Europe, but on the other side, I’ve often felt over-rehearsed in North America. The grass is always greener.

Q. There are a lot of Canadians (and Americans) working in Europe. Are you meeting other people?

A. Lots of them, all the time. It’s really lovely. So many of my colleagues and friends from school are over here! We have nice reunions as often as possible.

Q. Leipzig is an interesting place to be. It’s where Bach worked? Have you been to his church  the Thomaskirche?

A. Yes, I go often to the Thomaskirche, and I really love taking in a choral concert — especially the boys choir. It reminds me of my days in the children’s choir in Ottawa. And you can still feel the energy of Bach in the place.

Q. There is something about the history of these places that resonates with me. Do you find that? Does it inspire you?

A. I love Leipzig, and Europe in general for that reason. Historical architecture and art really inspire me, and feeling the history around me as I walk down the street is a wonderful thing. We just don’t have that in the same way in Canada. I know it sounds kooky, but I feel the energy of the composers in this place. Bach, Wagner and Mahler; so many of them lived and created here in Leipzig. And when I travel around the continent, I try and connect with the musical history of the place.

Q. What’s next?

A. Over the next few months I’ve got some performances at Oper Leipzig (La Cenerentola, a Ring Cycle, Mozart’s Mass in C). I’ll be singing Beethoven’s 9th in Spain, a Ravel recital in a German castle, Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins with the TSO and the Real Orquésta Sínfonica de Sevilla, a July recital in Ottawa, and then two cool productions in the U.K. this fall: the title role in L’enfant et les sortiléges and Dinah in Trouble in Tahiti. I’m  so grateful for all of these opportunities, and the exciting future projects coming up.

Main art: Wallis Giunta has been discovering the joys of Europe. Photo: Tim Dunk

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.