Going Out

STAR POWER: A Q&A with opera singer Wallis Giunta, who debuts as a soloist with the NAC Orchestra Feb 27/28

The 2012-2013 season has been kind to young mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta. After a summer of international performances, the 27-year-old Ottawa native went on to make debuts with local company Opera Lyra, the Edmonton Symphony, and Concierto Madrid, all while enrolled in the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. This February, Giunta returns home to debut as a soloist with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Here, she opens up to Ottawa Magazine’s Erica Eades about hometown pride, her love of Mozart, and the importance of staying grounded.

Wallis Giunta performs at the NAC on Feb. 27 and 28. Photo by Barbara Stoneham

How did you get into opera?
I started singing with choirs in Ottawa. First it was the Ottawa Central Children’s Choir, which led me to perform with the Opera Lyra chorus. Being in their chorus showed me how much I love opera and what a great career it would be.

What have been some of your favourite roles to date?
Cherubino [of the opera Le Nozze di Figaro] tops the list. It’s a pants role where I get to dress up as a young boy and pretend to be a pubescent 13-year-old troublemaker. But I also loved the role of Hermia in [Benjamin] Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play is incredible, but what he has done with the opera is just magic.

You’re currently in year two of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. What attracted you to this project?
For developing young opera singers, this program is ideal to give us the exposure and the experience we need in the professional world. At the same time, it gives us the luxury of a little more time in the incubator before we’re completely on our own. The program involves a lot of different things, including singing lessons with a private teacher, language coaching, movement classes, and acting work.

When not performing, you’re a self-described tomboy. How does your glamorous on-stage persona intersect with your more laid-back lifestyle?
They don’t intersect at all, really. It’s almost as if I’m two different people. What I do on stage is my job. It’s something that I absolutely would do for free if no one would pay me, but I do think of it as a job. When I’m not performing, I’m not a diva. My parents raised me to be very self-sufficient — there was never any indulgence. It’s a good balance with what I do on stage.

You’ll be making your National Arts Centre Orchestra debut with two performances of Mozart’s “Requiem” in February. What can audiences expect from these shows?
Mozart’s “Requiem” is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. It’s a masterpiece of Mozart. Every movement is just a revelation — it’s like the greatest hits of oratorio. I think audiences are in for a divine night of music.

What are you most looking forward to about performing in your hometown?
Well, this is my debut as a soloist with the NACO, but I’ve been singing with them in choirs since I was nine. I think I owe them a great deal. Their Young People’s Concerts series is what introduced me to classical music. I can’t express how much that made an impact on my life and my career choice. It’s a very special thing to be able to come home and be a part of that.

Wallis Giunta joins the NAC Orchestra Feb. 27 and 28 for performances of Mozart’s “Requiem.” $20-$110. National Arts Centre, Southam Hall, 53 Elgin St., 888-991-2787, www.nac-cna.ca.