For Wallis Giunta, a recital is more than just a recital.
When the Canadian mezzo-soprano presents “The Seven Deadly Sins” in Coral Gables on Thursday, she'll be singing a program that has evolved over time into something almost resembling a theatrical piece.
Thursday will mark Giunta’s fourth performance of the “Sins” recital, a program she conceived of as an undergraduate but that has come to fruition only in the last few years.
“I think of it kind of like a one-woman show or a monodrama, as opposed to a recital,” she said over a cup of tea at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. “It’s very difficult, but it’s also very rewarding. It has a real dramatic arc, because each piece, each set of sins is like a little dramatic journey.”
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The sets of sins she’s referring to are thematic song groupings constructed around Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins. Written in 1933, Weill’s nine-movement cycle, set to a libretto by frequent collaborator Bertolt Brecht, traces the story of a pair of sisters (or possibly a single split personality), Anna I and Anna II, who travel to major American cities and encounter the various faces of sin along the way.
In the Brecht-Weill original, three of the sins — sloth, gluttony, and greed — are sung by a male quartet representing Anna’s family. Turning a suite for five voices and orchestra into a piece for solo voice and piano would take some doing.
“When I was an undergrad I used to work at the Toronto Symphony Hall, and they had [the Sins] on the program one day with Ute Lemper singing Anna,” Giunta said. “And I was working that night so I saw it and I just fell in love with it.
“My first idea was to take the piano reduction and spice it up,” she said, “with the family represented by wind players, and then include pieces by other composers to fill in the blanks.” Plans to perform the program as her graduation recital fell through, and free musicians are difficult to come by in the post-undergraduate world. Making the “Sins” a reality would require some rethinking.
Giunta hit upon the idea of creating her own “Seven Sins” program — discarding the Weill songs for the rest of the family and adding songs by other composers with thematic “sin” links.
“I have a couple of songs per sin, by the most varied collection of composers you could imagine,” she says. No kidding — the program on Thursday will include works by composers from Britten to Poulenc to John Lennon.
Giunta’s accompanist will be Ken Noda, a regular on the New York recital scene who has had an important influence on her training during her time at the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists Development program. “He’s everywhere, simply because, I would say, he’s the best,” she said. “I’m extremely lucky that he believes in me enough to want to do this with me.”
Though she’s had enough of “young artist” programs for now after spending two years at the Met’s Lindemann program, Giunta tries to hold on to her student mentality. “When I work with people that are older than me, that are more experienced, I’m quite happy for them to teach me and give me anything that they think I need to know,” she said. “A lot of artists, I gather, as they get older and further into their careers, they just want someone to play, just want someone to show up and not make any mistakes. But I want someone to help me grow, and that’s what Ken does.”
A young woman with a busy schedule, Giunta is in demand at Canada’s most prominent opera companies. She made her debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera last season as the Countess Ceprano in Rigoletto, a role she revisited this season.
Despite the Met’s added pressures, Giunta finds it a relief after the particular stresses of working with smaller companies.
“It’s just incredible to be in a show there. The machine just works like clockwork, everybody knows what to do, they don’t freak out — it’s the most relaxed environment,” she said.
“Sometimes at smaller companies, when they only do one or two productions a year, it’s such a big deal. They’re not as used to it, and the machine isn’t as well oiled, and everything gets a little frantic. Here [at the Met] it’s like slipping into a hot bath — you just show up for your show, you sing, and you go home. It’s great.”