This article first appeared in 2011.
Heels on Wheels with Wallis Giunta
Occupation: Opera Singer
Photos by Molly (nee Crealock) Miska
Interview by Tammy Thorne
Tell us how cycling and singing intersect in your life?
Cycling and singing are my two favourite things; so naturally, they have a big affect on each other. I’ve used my bike as my main mode of transportation since I was 12, and I arrive at almost every performance on two wheels. When I’m cycling, I feel clear-headed and at peace, which helps me get into the right zone for performing. It also warms up my body, and opens my lungs.
Do you ever sing while cycling?
I really love to sing while I’m riding. I figure if I can sing a difficult piece while I’m biking, it should be no problem under normal breathing conditions! Also, cycling is such a rhythmic and enjoyable process that I can’t seem to hold back. When I’m happy, I sing, and when I bike, I’m happy.
What are you working on now?
I just started working at the Metropolitan Opera in New York this past September. I’m a member of their Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and I absolutely love it…but I do miss Canada. Fortunately, I have lots to look forward to at home this season. My next performance is at Roy Thompson Hall on New Years Eve! It’s the annual Bravissimo! Gala, and I will be singing opera classics with a quartet of fabulous singers from around the world. Following that, I have a solo recital with Music Toronto at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts on March 1st, with pianist Steven Philcox. Not to spoil too much, but the program is very exciting and very Canadian.
Can you tell us a bit about being a Lindemann Young Artist with the acclaimed Metropolitan Opera?
What we have available in this program is really quite amazing. Our main job is to watch and learn, which is very easy since there is a performance almost every night, and rehearsals all day throughout the building. We have access to the world’s best opera coaches and directors; we get private language instruction in the most common operatic tongues (this season I plan to master Italian and German); we have frequent auditions for opera companies, festivals and conductors; we learn to dance and move - most recently, we had salsa dance classes as it helps to release tension in the body and make a singer more relaxed, with a lower centre of gravity. The list goes on. It is a very similar program to the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio, of which I was very fortunate to be a member of for the past two years. The only difference is the volume of singers, conductors, and productions that come through the Met’s massive doors.
Do you ever bike in NYC?
So far, I’ve used my bikes around my neighbourhood and for recreational riding, as the commute would be too long from where I’m living. It’s cool for me though, because in Toronto my bike was my car, and I rarely had time to ride just for fun. Now I go in the park on the weekends and ride just because I want to.
Have you ever worn heels while riding your bike?
I like to arrive at events ready to go, so I often ride in performance gowns, with my heels and jewellery on! The only thing that I can’t do is my hair, because I have to wear my helmet. (Yes, mom I do.) So, the hair waits until I get to the theatre. I actually like wearing heels to bike. There’s a way to hook them on the pedals, and it’s quite stable.
Tell us about your gown.
I am a very lucky girl because my gowns come from David McCaffrey at McCaffrey Haute Couture. We work together to create looks for my performances that reflect how I feel, what he’s into, and what each performance requires. The gowns live at his boutique, on display gallery style, and they send them out to me when I have a performance. It’s totally ideal. I am also the face of David’s label, and we have great fun shooting each collection in beautiful locations. This gown was for a performance for our Governor General, and also happens to be my favourite color.
What is your best cycling accessory?
My most indispensable bike accessory is my wire basket on my back rack. It hooks on the side of the rack so easily, and has a strong handle, so I can carry it around with me – everywhere.
I also love my YNOT pedal straps, because I can use them with heels just as easily as my Blundstones!
Do you cycle in the fall and winter?
I cycle 365 days a year if I can. I have two bikes, and they both do all seasons. I love riding when it’s cold. When you ride in the winter, you stay much warmer, and arrive at your destination toasty. I actually get overheated all the time when I ride in the winter. I have to stop and peel off layers during my ride. Take that, streetcar.
How does wool work it’s way into your fall cycling wardrobe?
First I will say that I don’t have a cycling wardrobe. I wear what I wear, and it all works on my bike. I’m a pretty practical and casual dresser. But, wool has fully infiltrated my wardrobe in general. My dad got me into Icebreaker merino wool clothing, and I have at least one layer of it on each day. I also make use of my collection of wool kilts from my mom’s Highland Dancing days, and my Hudson’s Bay red wool parka from Value Village. And my wool socks that my grandma knits me. So far, I haven’t gotten into cashmere, but you always need something to look forward to, eh?
Do you ever match your wardrobe with your bicycle?
Not really. If I did, I’d be wearing mud splattered, ripped up black clothing. But I do love how using my bike influences my style. No matter what I’m wearing, riding my bike always brings me down to earth. Being physically responsible for your own transportation is very humbling and liberating. I like my style to reflect how that makes me feel.
What is your favourite city to ride in?
I love riding in Germany. I’ve been in Gutersloh, Neumarkt, and Nürnberg, and all three places I was able to easily get a free bicycle; legally. They all had dedicated lanes, and you never had to worry about cars, or car doors. Cycling is a big part of their culture and is not just welcomed but encouraged. It was luxury.
What is the strangest thing you’ve done with a bicycle?
I’ve dressed my bike up for Halloween. We’ll leave it at that.
Ms. Giunta is the 10th Heels on Wheels profile in our dandyhorse series on fashionable pedal people.
You can check out the new Bobbin bike video here.