Wallis Giunta delivers her compelling confection of Kurt Weill’s “Sins”

By Lawrence Budmen

Mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta performed her own distinctive version of Kurt Weill's "Seven Deadly Sins" Thursday night at Coral Gables Congregational Church.

Mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta performed her own distinctive version of Kurt Weill’s “Seven Deadly Sins” Thursday night at Coral Gables Congregational Church.

The Seven Deadly Sins, a twenty-first century reinvention of Kurt Weill’s 1933 ballet-drama, was the season’s penultimate offering for Friends of Chamber Music Thursday night. Equal parts monodrama and vocal recital, the program showcased the formidable talents of Canadian mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program. The superb pianist Ken Noda was the one-man orchestra  for a wide-ranging presentation that spanned from Weill, Handel and Schubert to Stephen Foster and John Lennon.

Giunta has been developing this program since her college years and has previously performed it three times. Weill’s publishers have claimed that the composer and his widow Lotte Lenya had stipulated that the score could only be presented in its original form with orchestra. While they allowed Thursday’s performance to take place, they have banned all future presentations of Giunta’s program. So, the audience at Coral Gables Congregational Church was hearing the singer’s fascinating conflation of art song and drama for likely the last time.

That is unfortunate because, with one possible exception, her selection of songs and arias interspersed between the sections of Weill’s original is faithful to the work’s cynical tone, the totality making for a compelling evening of music and theater.

Working for the final time with his frequent collaborator Bertolt Brecht, Weill fashioned the tale of Anna, who is sent by her parents to work in America. Hoping for a career as a dancer, Anna’s travels to seven cities lead her ever deeper into prostitution and despair.  Like such earlier Weill-Brecht collaborations as The Threepenny Opera and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, the score traverses the jazz-inflected world of Weimar-era cabaret and the films of Marlene Dietrich. Weill’s mix of waltzes, foxtrots and jazz is brilliantly conceived, the catchy tunes seasoned with bitters.

In a flaming orange evening gown, Giunta seemed the chic personification of the era. Her light, beautifully produced sound extends impressively to both lower and upper extremes, a rich bottom register matched by gleam at the top.

She is also a terrific singing actress. Encompassing Anna’s mood swings from hope to hard-bitten vehemence and, finally, tired resignation as she returns home, Giunta’s performance and emotional range proved riveting. She was seductive in Weill’s tango Youkali, became a French chanteuse in a languid Poulenc song, and turned into a British vaudevillian with a Flanders and Swann ditty.

Giunta also spun flawless Baroque coloratura at a furious clip in”Crude Furie”  from Handel’s Xerxes. Her sultry tones in an excerpt from a Ruperto Chapi zarzuela were matched by an alluring version of Montsalvatge’s  Cancion de Cuba that underlined the song’s anger and bitterness.

Giunta sang an unaccompanied rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine with the idiomatic folksy pop style of Joni Mitchell. In Schubert’s Der Zwerg, she varied her tone to individually characterize the voices of the queen and the murderous dwarf. Despite Giunta’s simple, unaffected delivery, Stephen Foster’s Old Folks at Home sounded out of place, the song’s sentimentality at odds with Weill’s bitter heroine.

Noda was more than a mere accompanist. He drew nearly symphonic sonority from the church’s splendid Bosendorfer, bringing idiomatic flair to the program’s varied stylistic palette.

Friends of Chamber Music’s season concludes 8 p.m. May 6 with the Escher Quartet and pianist Benjamin Grosvenor. miamichambermusic.org. 305-372-2975

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Fri Mar 28, 2014
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