• By: Keith Whittier

Wallis Giunta: Ottawa’s Opera Star

Photography by Paul Couvrette, Makeup by Leslie-Anne Barrett and accessories by Leeann Lacroix.

It was a pivotal moment in her life, when as a teenager, Wallis Giunta realized the power of opera.

“I used to sit in the wings every night after my part was done and watch the finale of the opera, Giunta recalls, thinking back to her time in the adult chorus of the National Arts Centre’s production of Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. It was her second opera. She had been in the chorus for the NAC’s La Bohème the year before, but she said this time was different.

“I was at a place where I was ready to really appreciate the depth of this art form and what the story was trying to say.” She was 16-years-old at the time. “I saw and experienced for myself how the arts could move people, especially opera, because it is a combination of all art forms. I wanted the opportunity to do that for other people.

Giunta’s love of music started at a tender age. She was eight when she joined the Ottawa Central Children’s Choir (now called the Ottawa Children’s Choir). Thanks to her involvement with this choir, she was introduced to opera at the National Arts Centre. Giunta’s choir director, Barbara Clark, also encouraged her to take lessons and at the age of 12, Giunta began working with Charlotte Stewart, a respected member of Ottawa’s musical and theatre community.

“My choir director and my singing teacher guided me and set me on the path for the incredible journey I’m on,” Giunta says. “I also couldn’t have had more supportive parents. I’m so lucky. They are 100 per cent behind me and I’m so grateful for that.

Giunta attended the Glenn Gould School in Toronto, where she completed undergraduate and post- graduate programs. She was then headhunted to complete an artist diploma at the famed Juilliard in New York. In the years that followed, Giunta completed apprenticeship programs with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, totaling a decade of post-secondary education in music and voice.

Giunta explains that training to be an opera singer is like training to be a professional athlete.

You have to wait until your body is trained to the point that it can do the things you’re asking of it,” she says. “With the voice it takes a long time. We have to be patient and slow and careful.

“Giunta’s career is blossoming, with several rave reviews already on her résumé and an extremely bright and exciting future on the horizon in Europe.”

Giunta says when an opera singer is first starting out, it is good to continue education while entering the professional world, as she did. Giunta has been working professionally for about nine years now, travelling all over the world.

Moving around so much for her work has been one of Giunta’s main challenges.

“I don’t get to have a stable home like a normal person would have. Most of the time, I’m on the road and it’s Asia, Europe, Canada, the US, all over,” she says. “I have to be really good at adapting. I have to be really good at uprooting myself and landing in a new place and hitting the ground running.

Giunta’s latest adventure  has brought her to Germany where she has joined Oper Leipzig.

“It’s great because it’s the only scenario as a singer where you can live in one place and sleep in your own bed at night. You get to have a life,” she says.

“Germany is a Mecca for opera,” she describes. “People go to the opera like they go to the movies here. Every German city has a world-class opera house and orchestra, so if you really want to get a lot of work, you have to go there,” she says.

Giunta will be performing in six operas over the next year and in many of those roles, she will be playing a man.

As a marvelous mezzo-soprano (a woman with a lower voice), Giunta often plays “pant roles,” meaning a woman who appears in male clothing. “When you get to play a man, your imagination can run wild,” Giunta says. “It’s like playing dress-up and just pretending to be something you’re not. I love it.”

Giunta’s career is blossoming, with several rave reviews already on her résumé and an extremely bright and exciting future on the horizon in Europe.

She attributes her success to her support system but also says it has a lot to do with resilience, dedication and focus. “There is no point in doing anything at all if you’re not going to do it to the best of your ability,” Giunta says. That is her motto in life. “I set very high standards for myself and I guess that principle helps a lot.

When Giunta isn’t performing or rehearsing, she loves to be outdoors, riding her bike, hiking or camping. She also loves to read. She says she is hoping to do all of these things in Germany, but even when she is there, Ottawa will always feel most like home.

“I think other cities are fun and great to experience for short periods of time. Even in New York, where I lived so long and in Toronto where I lived even longer, I just never felt at home. My heart belongs to Ottawa.

We’re very glad that’s the case.

Photograph by Paul Couvrette
Photography by Paul Couvrette