Wallis Giunta is one of opera’s rising international stars. She talks to Sarah Freeman about her journey from Canada to Leeds, via Germany and New York.
The audience never see it, but whenever Wallis Giunta is in the wings, waiting to go on stage, chances are she will be doing a downward dog. While other opera singers take time to warm up their voice, the Canadian mezzo-soprana is a great believer in the power of yoga.
“A lot of the cast think I’m crazy, but it works for me,” says the 31- year-old, who is about to star in Cinderella, part of Opera North’s new fairy tale season. “Opera can be physically exhausting but thanks to yoga I actually come off stage even more energised than when I started. When the curtain comes down, honestly nine times out of 10 I feel like I can run a marathon.”
Born in Ottawa, Giunta trained at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and early on in her career had a stint at New York’s Met Opera on its Young Artist’s programme. While she is now a resident singer at Oper Leipzig in Germany, she works extensively around Europe and admits that Opera North was a company that had been on her radar.
“It was last spring that I was invited to audition for Cinderella and I didn’t need to be asked twice,” says Giunta. “It is an amazing set-up here and it’s a company which has a great reputation. This is somewhere I have always wanted to work, but I also have personal reasons for wanting to perform over here.
“My grandparents were Scottish and Irish, but lived in England before emigrating. The second I get to my grandma’s house, the kettle is on and I definitely drink the most tea of any Canadian I know. When I come here, I feel a real connection with the way my grandparents speak and the little traditions they have.”
Aletta Collins directs Rossini’s Cinderella and it is a production with dance woven into its heart.
“I think you could probably best describe my approach to dance as enthusiastic,” says Giunta. “I am probably not going to win any awards, but I give it my all. This production is traditional in terms of the actual story, but I think it’s important that if we are going to keep opera alive and make it relevant then you have to try new things and we absolutely do that here.”
While Giunta doesn’t want to spoil the surprise, when we meet she has just been filming sections of video projection which will feature in the final performance.
“That’s why I am wearing so much make-up,” she says. “That element has been completely new for me and it requires a very different style of performance, but I am a great believer in trying new things and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.”
While Giunta comes from a family which loves its music, she is the only to have turned it into a career and she knew from an early age that singing was where her heart lay.
“I started singing when I was eight,” she says. “By 12 I was having proper lessons and then when I was 15 I got taken to see Madame Butterfly. I just loved it and from that point, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I have been very lucky. I think my voice is not only getting stronger, but the tone is staying the same. There is no better feeling than being on stage singing the words of a genius like Leonard Bernstein. Everything he did was from the heart and the same is true of Ravel. They are both just magic.”
Cinderella, Grand Theatre, Leeds. Various dates to February 25. www.operanorth.co.uk