Composer-film and stage producer William Perry and the Peter Warlock Society


Composer-film and stage producer William Perry (centre) with two leading scholars of the Peter Warlock Society, Robert Beckhard and Malcolm Rudland.

Says Perry, “The Society is located in England, and I have been for many years the President of the North American Chapter. Warlock, whose real name was Philip Heseltine, was a minor but celebrated English composer (1894-1930), and influences from his music sometimes turn up in my work.”…/Wm_Perry_2016/article.html


Reviews: William Perry’s Jamestown Concerto and The Innocents Abroad CDs

jamestown-con-certo-cd-william-perryby L. Chrystal Dmitrovic

Before listening to the music, it was a joy to read the biographical liner notes to William Perry’s Jamestown Concerto CD. Apart from carrying a wealth of background information, the notes were a view back, revealing fascinating details about the composer’s experiences at his earliest career stages.

Although not directly related to the CD being reviewed, mention is made of Perry while at Harvard University for music studies and his occasion as a conductor when he organized a student orchestra and chorus. In a performance of Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music, it was described that he provided a wind section that featured 12 oboes, and 8 bassoons (which would have supplied weight and might to any royal refrain) and, a “serpent.”

What exactly is this “serpent” and what does it sound like? This “horn” or a similar instrument was “played” by Danny Kaye, for example, in A Song is Born (1948). I asked Mr. Perry if he had employed it as an instrument in any of his own compositions since that performance, and he replied “I have never used a Serpent in any of my [recorded] stuff, but, as you know, I did compose for the instrument that succeeded it, that being the Ophicleide. The Serpent is not easy to play and at times can present problems in maintaining pitch. Handel said “It not be the serpent that seduced Eve?” And the great film composer, David Raksin, said that “the Serpent sounds like a donkey with emotional problems.”


Danny Kaye (above) performing with a samba horn in a publicity photo from A Song is Born (1948), and a photo (below) courtesy of William Perry depicting a real “serpent”


About the photo he provided, Perry notes “I understand that Bernard Herrmann used a serpent in the scores of White Witch Doctor (1953) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), as did Jerry Goldsmith in his score for Alien (1979). I never found a place for it in any of my film scores. The Danny Kaye instrument is similar but looks like it was created in the prop shop.”

I now nod in understanding about the Serpent. And, after many decades, I think I’ve finally discovered, thanks to Perry mentioning it in connection to the film, what instrument was heard when the “giant dinosaur” iguanas cavorted menacingly onscreen in Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959).

Perry has often included a broad variety and largess of group of instruments in his orchestras. Regarding the university performance of Handel, he states, “It may be of interest to know that Handel’s original orchestra for “The Royal Fireworks” included 24 oboes, 12 bassoons and a contrabassoon, 9 natural trumpets, 9 natural horns, 3 pairs of kettle drums and side drums. No strings … the King loved brass and woodwinds. I guess you can collect 24 oboes and 12 bassoons by Royal command. I felt pleased that 12 oboists and 8 bassoonists voluntarily came from all around New England for our performance. The Boston Symphony supplied the contrabassoonist.”

Not in the liner notes, and equally enlightening, is a revealed fondness and respect for his own instruments, which may have their own delightful histories. Perry confides, for example, “My harpsichord was built in Germany by Martin Sassmann, probably in the late 1960s. Building harpsichords seems like such a peaceful pursuit, but in the Second World War, Sassmann was a Messerschmitt fighter pilot.”

That brings to mind the spontaneous Silent Night duet sung between opposing battle troops in WWI during a brief “ceasefire.” Music can truly transcend war and be a harbinger for peace.

And now, from serpents on to reviews proper ….

William Perry’s Jamestown Concerto features Yehuda Hanani as cello soloist, accompanied by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Eddins. Hanani’s cello serves as “lead vocal,” a distinct voice acting as “narrator” in this musical historical tale.

The NAXOS world premiere recording is representative of the concept of using music as a medium to share histories of people, places or events in continuity through time. The musical staff “read out note by note” is comparatively a walking staff that Hebrew fathers “scored” to pass along their oral history. For centuries they recited from memory, “reading and singing” according to the etched marks on the the staff. The practice was effective until formal writing was invented and came into common use.

Akin to the chicken or the egg dilemma, man likely had music before literature, with melody and narrative used to “record” milestones in history, myth, legend, and lore. In our modern era with all the literary options and amenities available, music apart from being entertainment, is still a mode to enrich tribute to historic, notable moments of people and cultures. It’s an artistic tool, capably capsuling our times and places as in familiar informal ditties and illuminating odes, within a plethora of song styles and formats. Patriotic national anthems, prose set to music representative of a country’s glory and pride, also fall under this category.

Perry composed the Jamestown Concerto to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown in Virginia, the first permanent colony established in what would one day be known as The United States of America. The concerto had its public performance and later radio broadcast premieres in 2007, with the US National Public Radio broadcast occurring on the historic commemoration date of May 13, 2007 – the very day colonists landed in Virginia.

As for using visuals to research the Jamestown settlement in preparation to compose his concerto, or studying old paintings or watching movies for inspiration and historical background, Perry explains that, “I studied 17th century history and literature at college and had given concerts of early 17th century music.”

william_perry_stravinsky_poseComposer William Perry in his famous Stravinsky pose

I – London 1606. The Virginia Company
In this first movement, the cello lyrically introduces the concerto in the Old World as though far off in the distance, then the music “parts” a cloud cover over London landmarks and its winding river like an inquisitive motion picture camera. Finally, it settles focus on a bustling throng in a crowded square. It’s “follow me” invitation eases into forward-looking visions and introduces suitcases full of dreams for a better life.

The melody rests upon families seeking freedom in a new homeland, businesses dreaming for lucre and gain in uncharted territory. This preamble music prepares for the expedition and the journey from high-finance London to presumed riches in that mysterious land across the sea. It’s all a go, come what may. It’s already a “no turning back” mindset in the planning stages, with the melody organized “in its thinking” and performance. The cello has introduced and set the stage for its continuing narrative in the concerto.

It was John Milton (father of the poet) whose “germ of a melody” as quoted in the CD liner notes that stood out and impressed Perry to expand on it for the first movement of the concerto. For this review, Perry explains, “It was a rich melody, and the verse celebrated Fair Oriana, which is to say, Queen Elizabeth.”

The movement overall speaks with gentle suspense in the midst of preparations for the journey of discovery. An exhilaration then sets in as the sensation of expectation
billows out sails of greats ships as they forge across the expanse of sea. Many sunsets and sunrises will turn with the Earth before the new horizon is seen. The horns, specifically French horns, are exceptionally radiant and rich, leading the colonists to finally reach the New Land in 1607.

II – Settlements Along the River
This second movement is so evocative of all that discovery is and the elation it can stir. The music takes first cautious steps in a new land, and with no ready-made roads perhaps follows a game trail or a native footpath that can be barely seen in the scrub. The river has a gentle flow, with misty clouds of flying insects hovering above the water. Instrumentally, the orchestra drifts you along through rapids, then through the fading light of afternoon. Settlers wave to other rafters, watching fishing lines catch a glisten of water as they are lowered and raised. Then a military march marks an abrupt change as troops organize their journey and meet skirmishes with the new land’s inhabitants – as well as greeting other friendly tribes who will eventually become the settlements’ means of surviving the first terrible winters.

Perry employs single or groups of instruments to represent various people and situations. When first settling into the wilds along the James River, territory reigned over by Chief Powhatan, the chief is given lordly voice by a single trombone – with an echo supplied by another solo horn. When Captain John Smith appears to subdue the fighting between settlers and native tribes, his strength and authority is suggested by triading (and likely a little tirading) of trumpets. The tween Indian princess Pocahontas is brought into vision by a solo flute against a solo cello pizzicato.

III – The Long Winters
Kettle drums open the third movement, and the cello solo is reverently romantic. The pizzicato in a combo of instruments inspires a stunning visual. Like seen through a shimmery halo, the first snow of the season is falling, lightly dusting the forest and cabin rooftops. Large billowy flakes play tag in the wind currents as the river freezes over slowly; soon the landscape becomes a few trickles of water flowing in cracks or puddling on stretches of ice. With the clinging cold and the building blankets of deep snow, the future seems bleak. Still, with spirit and hope, settlers and villagers go out into the cold of day to hunt, to visit, and to trade with natives and other settlers along the river.

Overt weepy strings drip sentimental tears for a few bars, suggesting that the Old World – its safety, its security, its known challenges, its everyday problems diminished in view of the greater unknowns of the New World – is missed dearly. Perry describes an especially poignant section of bars – a slow, wavy gliding technique directed for the strings at 1:27 to 1:39 in movement III, The Long Winters – as, “In that passage the cello soloist and the principal cello in the orchestra are playing string harmonics at intervals of a fourth.”

In a pensive spell, the settlement still not “home,” the melody reflects the worries of the new-landers, whether or not theirs had been a right decision to settle in an unknown land. Still, hope glimmers for provision, for survival, a drawing together of the settlement for strength, warmth and renewed expectation. The cello solo is now a gently comforting, inspiring voice, and the colonists are longing for home, reflected by the quite haunting passage where the solo cello duets with an oboe d’amore.

Come Spring, the cello voice gains energy and breaks into happier harmonies tremulous with sprite joy and even a twinkle of frivolity. The kettle drums briefly announce Winter’s end. Overtones in the cascading strings assuredly indicate that Spring and new hope is returning. To have made it through the bleak dark of Winter is reason to celebrate. The settlements, despite casualties, had survived, and settlers could begin living the next chapter, thankful and looking forward to fulfilling those suitcase dreams carried with them to their new land.

IV – Pocahontas in London
With this fourth movement, Perry chose to incorporate a fragment of extant music of the period as an aria for the cello. This little historical nugget was originally part of “The Vision of Delight” staged at a masque held at Whitehall Palace, which Pocahontas attended in 1616.

Previous to this interlude in Perry’s composition, the orchestra climbed a musical hill, suggestive of the Indian Princess’ arrival and the procession to see the Queen. Included was a “gigue,” a lively baroque dance musically inspired by the British jig. Amazing chording and the orchestra’s expressive emotional longing highlights this passage. Sliding fingers languidly connect to create notes; melody elevates to sunbeams breaking through wish-holding clouds. A trombone solos moodily as all the orchestra instruments seem to be conversing with each other with great interest, rather than the occasion being a gathering of musicians following a score. A slowing horn phrase then becomes an abrupt pause, with a forte pizzicato stop-note from the string basses and cellos emphasizing a plea from Powhattan for Pocahontas to return home. Sadly – and this is reflected in the melody – Pocahontas, about to return home, had already given up her spirit as the ship departed the English harbour. The orchestra ebbs toward closure. And what was that instrument gently striking single melody notes behind the last bars of the cello in the last 16 seconds of the movement, so reverently played? “A harp in triple octaves,” Perry reveals.

V – Jamestown Four Hundred Years On
Drifting forward year by year, drifting toward the future in this last movement of Perry’s concerto, it took numerous decades for the colony to establish itself successfully.

And suddenly, it is four hundred years later – the first colony had really “arrived.” Having survived its most difficult early years, the 5th movement is a confident, victorious finale; with echos of the earlier movements, it has the happy emphasis of a colony that has now stood for centuries as a testament to perseverance. It melodically reminisces with the first movement, but is now more vigorous and shifts into supplementary melody notes. The orchestra flourishes in percussion, and a brilliantly vigorous cello vocal atop horns is exultantly accompanied by ecstatic cymbal clashes. The orchestra hails as a proudly marching processional, celebrating the little colony that beat the odds. The once frail sapling Jamestown endured, and to this day is remembered as the flagship of all colonial triumphs.

The dawn of America’s rich history, its first people and formative years, are so wonderfully preserved musically for the record by William Perry in his Jamestown Concerto. The interpretation through the score gives the listener the chance to easily imagine all about the beginnings of a country – all that was sublime, its worst challenges, and the hard fought-for triumphs of its first settlers. From a colony, to a country to be for always ….

Please note: While this review has been dedicated to Perry’s Jamestown Concerto, buyers and listeners of the CD will be pleased to know that Yehuda Hanani includes two other remarkable performances of American Music for Cello and Orchestra: William Schuman’s A Song of Orpheus, introduced by actress Jane Alexander, and Virgil Thomson’s colorful Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra.


Composer William Perry has had a long multi-generational relationship with Mark Twain, so to speak. The author was a familiar sight to his grandmother; and Perry came to know his niece. Explains Perry, “Mark Twain spent his summers at Quarry Farm, on a hill overlooking my native city of Elmira, NY. When he came down into town, as my grandmother pointed out, he was probably heading for Klapproth’s Tavern, his favorite watering-hole. Some portions of the original tavern are built into the Library at Elmira College. Mark Twain’s niece, Ida Langdon, was Chairman of the English Department at Elmira College for many years. She was a good friend of my family.”

This intertwining of lives virtually made it inevitable that Perry would one day evolve the connections into artistic substance. It was more fate than required reading in a school setting that would lead to Perry producing and composing for a major Twain-inspired series of films. Says Perry matter of factly,“”I have been associated one way or other with Mark Twain all my life. It was quite natural that I would one day develop a series of films based on his books.”

Perry, however, might not have foreseen that his Mark Twain films would one day win the most coveted recognition in the broadcasting industry, the Peabody Award.

The six films in the Mark Twain series, co-produced by William Perry’s own Great Amwell Company and the Nebraska Educational Network and other international production companies, premiered on PBS in the USA and experienced hugely popular screenings worldwide. (The films were seen simultaneously in Canada, with the American network a part of cable packages or picked up by analog antenna.) According to the CD liner notes, all the films “were originally sponsored and premiered by the national television networks of the United States (PBS) [as mentioned], Germany, Austria, Italy and France and have since been seen throughout the world.”

The Twain films are musically rife and ripe with international flavour and atmosphere, with Perry’s scores, and background/incidental passage for individual scenes, complementing well the visuals and the issues which at times were controversial. The range and descriptive prowess of Twain in his storylines always ultimately involves the reader emotionally – and Perry has matched the author’s particular creativity with movements that authenticate and define those folk tales with a true sense of what it like was to live in those long-gone days.

For the four-hour adaptation of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Perry was re-acquainted with Lillian Gish, with whom he’d worked during production of the second Silent Film Years series in 1975, when she was engaged as the host. Onset, he was photographed with Gish, Patrick Day, Butterfly McQueen (Prissy from Gone With The Wind). Other distinguished players, such as actress Geraldine Page and actors Frederic Forrest and Richard Kiley were among the all-star cast. For Perry, it was all quite functional. “I was on the set every day in both roles as producer and composer,” he says simply.



Above: Patrick Day, Lillian Gish and William Perry on an exterior location set of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, broadcast on American Playhouse in 1986. (Photo: John Seakwood)
Below: Other players in the 4-hour film: Richard Kiley, Butterfly McQueen, Geraldine Page, Sada Thompson, and Samm-Art Williams

The world is much more “politically correct” these days. As to there being anything Perry might have have approached differently if he were to produce the films today, one wonders if he would remain faithful to the time of Twain and the context of his original works. Perry took a firm stand during the production of the series, saying, “One of our sponsors withdrew because of our use of the “N” word in Pudd’nhead Wilson. We had no problem finding a different sponsor. We insisted on being true to Twain and his period.”

All the films had illustrious casts. Robert Lansing and Marcy Walker appeared in Life on the Mississippi. Brooke Adams, David Ogden Stiers and Barry Morse featured in The Innocents Abroad. Pat Hingle and Cynthia Nixon appeared in The Private History of a Campaign That Failed. Perry recalls, “Virtually every actor we approached felt excited about the association with a Mark Twain classic book. And the parts I could offer were rich and interesting.”

In The Film section CD liner notes, written by Perry’s associate producer of the films, Jane Iredale, it’s stated that a scene deleted in the Huck Finn book was restored for Life on the Mississippi,  and refers to the music track, The Raftsmen.  It has been documented by historian Dr. Allan Gribben that Twain originally heeded his publisher’s opinion to omit the passage. Perry’s film marks the first time that the raftsmen passage was restored not only in storyline form for the screen, but given a musical treatment as well.

Dr. Gribben also described about the passage, as published in the American edition of Life on the Mississippi: “This episode, with its strutting, pugnacious braggarts and its chilling ghost tale about a child’s murder, contains some of Mark Twain’s best writing. Its restoration here [in the book] enables readers to savor more of Twain’s contributions to the then-reigning “Local Color” school of fiction that prized vivid descriptions of an area’s vocations and peculiarities.”

Perry concurred, stating, “We decided that the scene was so colorful and so exciting that we would use it in our adaptation.”

While working on location in Vienna for The Mysterious Stranger, composer-producer-fundraiser Perry also stepped in as conductor. He was required to replace the original conductor at a moment’s notice, and had to conduct with an improvised conductor’s baton.

Perry explained in “The Vienna Connection to The Mark Twain Series of Film” in the November 2016 issue of The Empress Arts & Music Zine, “Legendary Composer William Perry – Creating the Score, Silent to Sound”:

“Interesting sidelight. This was the third of the Mark Twain films, and my scores for the previous two had been recorded by the Saint Louis Symphony conducted by Leonard Slatkin. He was due to conduct this third score in Vienna, but missed his plane in New York. The members of the Vienna Symphony staff came to me with small freshly cut branches from the Vienna woods since I would now be doing the conducting and would need a baton! I continued as conductor for the remainder of the series.”

He adds now (with a smile), “The Vienna Symphony is so great that I could have conducted with a soup ladle.”

The cast again, was remarkable, and included Chris Makepeace, Christoph Waltz, Fred Gwynne and Lance Kerwin. The Mysterious Stranger’s original storyline has been much debated as to what true or final form can be attributed to Twain. The choice for the tale’s approach being a “dream within a dream within a dream” is fantastical. Regarding that process, Perry says, “We brought together four of the country’s leading Twain scholars, and they helped us decide which version of The Mysterious Stranger to use.”

This series of films certainly depicted the amazing life and times and imagination of Mark Twain, as does Perry’s music give flesh and bones to the emotion, adventure, drama and humour of the stories. As for any other Mark Twain tale that he would have produced and for which he would have composed the score? Perry confides, “I always wanted to dramatize Roughing It, and had the funds been available, we would have done it. A great chance to write a Western score. We can’t outsource all those cowboy assignments to Morricone!”

From the CD liner notes, The Innocents Abroad and other Mark Twain films, excerpt from The Music written by Jane Iredale:

“For all of these, Perry has created music completely appropriate to the subject matter, with a common thread of melodic sweep combined with wit and inventiveness. His use of wordless chorus and unusual orchestration gives a special sense of color to the writing.”

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – tracks 1-10
The classic feature film overtureOpening Music, St. Petersburg” hearkens back to a lazy day aura from Mark Twain’s day with whimsical harmonica solos by Richard Hayman. The score goes on to highlight scenes with mood, emotion or augmenting action or the storyline. “Good Times by the River” melody flows like a raft upon lazy currents of the great river, past the landscape, the music  encourages a moment to stare up at the sun or to the horizon beyond.

gish_day_american_playhouseLillian Gish and Patrick Day in an American Playhouse
advertisement for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

“Escape from Pap’s Cabin” is filled with trepidation, curiosity and and a sense of the unexpected. Beats of a snare drum, with the melody escalating the scale and then descending, perilously swirls and whirlpools with strings and winds. Here, Perry’s music does not rest, but moves on perpetually, escaping without pause. “Starting Downstream” has a strong feel of danger, adventurous while cautious, until the strings express “great relief” upon reaching the section of the river they know is the safety of home.

“The Raftsmen” restored scene opens with the folksy boing of a jewsharp, then bubbles jauntily into an upbeat harmonica melody and chorus. A rachet and pizzicato strings including String bass strike a happy harmony, and a shimmery tremolo is worked on the harmonica as the melody courses upward.

The “Arrival of Royalty” scene is marked first by substantial percussion, most notably kettle drums. The military edge of horns interplays with the vigorously tapped xylophone, the tune sprinting enthusiastically toward the last pomp of the circumstance of the royal arrival.  “The Buggy Ride” soon strongly echoes portions of track 1 of Perry’s Jamestown Concerto in the background/incidental music; horn solos are joined by orchestra and a brief repose of French Horn solo. But soon the composition reins into a lively pizzicato-ing square dance style passage, and settles back down into the main melody.  In the “Rescuing Jim” scene, Perry artfully wrings full emotion from the orchestra, again easing into primary melody while running the emotional distance from distraught tension to rescue’s relief.

gish_day_on_set_huckleberry_finnIn disguise, Lillian Gish as Mrs. Loftus and Patrick Day as Huck Finn,
with Lillian giving the lad pointers on how to act like a young lady.

”Closing Scene” brings back the lanquid strains of the harmonica, backed with orchestra harmonies. All is gaiety and replete with well-being; that balance of life and struggle and good times plays on in a setting of the distinctive South. TheEnd Credit Music” concludes the film with a more enthusiastic rendition of the main melody introduced in the opening music

Pudd’nhead Wilson


DVD cover with Ken Howard as the title character,
local lawyer Pudd’nhead Wilson

The “Roxy’s Final Walk” scene has tender, devotional vocal chorals and the oboe d’amore pulling together all the emotions and feelings, while withstanding controversies and sad circumstances. Today we would term one of the themes in the film’s storyline as “wrongful conviction.”

The DVD is available on TCM and reviewer J.D. Hines rated the film as follows:
“Lïse Hilboldt steals the show as Roxie. Twain’s sensibilities shine through regarding race, injustice, and irony. Music done for closing credits is heavenly. Watch it, carnsarn you!”

Steven Weber, later to star in the TV series Wings, and Preston Maybank portray master and slave in William Perry’s production of Pudd’nhead Wilson broadcast on American Playhouse. The twist is that the identities of these two men were switched at birth. (Photo credit: Richard Howard)

Life on the Mississippi
This award-winning film was designated as one of the 10 best television films for 1980 by TV Guide. Robert Lansing portrayed experienced steamboat pilot Horace Bixby intent on teaching his apprentice “Sam Clemens” (David Knell) how to understand the means and the soul of the great Mississippi. The sweeping strings of “A Pilot on the Mississippi” and “The Romance of the River” with its wind solo perfectly reflect the ambiance of the mighty river’s smooth flow and lazy riverboat traffic.

According to the IMDb, “The pleasure steamboat Julia Belle Swain of Peoria, Illinois was refitted to look like an 1850s riverboat to appear in the film.”

Robert Lansing as a boat pilot and
David Knell as his apprentice, Sam

For the scene “Courtship of Emmeline” a lightly waltzing orchestra serves up a romantic angle with glockenspiel accents and a satisfyingly sweet ending. “Disaster at Night” breaks abruptly from the romantic promenade to wake to military drumming and emotional strings and the shrill alert of horns. A sense of impending danger through a wind solo brings disaster closer into focus. “The Majestic Mississippi” scene melody, where before for “river music” it was often sweeping calmly, now the orchestra charges forth into volleys of regal phrases. Horns and strings clamber together with a French Horn solo as the orchestra builds in force to the conclusion.

The Innocents Abroad
In the US (and Canada), the movie aired on Great Performances in May 1983. With the story’s itinerary, it was filmed on location in Egypt, France, Greece and Italy with the participation of numerous international production companies: William Perry’s Great Amwell Company, KQED, the Nebraska Educational Television, Progéfi, TF1 and Taurus Film.

The score travels the world in style, and Perry devises a common theme that changes musical “flavour” for each destination – the bacarolle for Italy, a moody tarantella for Napoli, and an exotic processional for the camel caravan in Egypt. The story follows Mark Twain as he travels on a pleasure cruise from America to Europe and beyond. Twain even falls in love with “Julia” during the journey.

Scene music for “Mark Twain’s Theme” is jolly and sprite, featuring down home banjo strumming. In “Paris – The Can-Can,” with its interpretation of traditional can-can music, raucous horns, punching and rolling drums and percussion accompany the can-can kicks; frivolity and giddy fun with  orchestra and kettle drum finishing off with a flourish. Perry’s music in this movement possibly marks the first time a true Can-Can with full-scale orchestra has been written since French composer Jacques Offenbach’s 1858 “Galop Infernal” in Orpheus in the Underworld.

The strum of a mandolin is heard in “Gondolas in Venice” in a Bacarolle melody. The Italian vacation in “Genoa – The Bathtub Rag” has a slow ragtime dance with pizzicato strings, piano, drum kit and snare, with the snare drum pretty well mimicking a tap-dance in perfect time.  “Julia” returns the quavering harmonica romantically to the background music.

Craig Wasson as Mark Twain, Brooke Adams as Julia Newell, and David Ogden Stiers as Doc on a pleasure cruise that takes them to points Europe and elsewhere. Barry Morse starred as the ship’s captain.

“Welcome to Naples” is adventurously staccato, and the listener is treated to Italian street dancing and music. In “The Greek Chase,” the Greek folk dance is on, upbeat and lively, with plucky hints of Klezmer band music. An original touch is the brief banjo solo and other touches of banjo in the melody. “Egyptian Caravan” has a saxophone solo decorated with appropriate Middle-East oboes, and the music sways with the rhythmic pace of a desert camel  laden with cargo. The “Closing Credits” has a patriotic intro followed by a harmonica vocal that merges into a full orchestra waltz, includes other musical phrases heard throughout the film, and it all merges into a great finish.

The Private History of  a Campaign That Failed is a not too well-known Twain story. Its anti-war message regarding events in the Civil and Spanish-American Wars deals with the sad situation of a group of idealist boys who want to be soldiers and go to war. In their misdirected savage enthusiasm, they kill an innocent man. That farmer returns as a Godly messenger with a “War Prayer” aimed at a new generation of soldiers fighting in the Spanish-American War. Interestingly enough, Twain did not allow publication of the prayer in his lifetime.


The Private History of a Campaign That Failed (1981), VHS front cover

In “Girls Along the Road,” life is carefree, fun, reflected in the melody. War is then hinted at by miltary-ish notes from a muted trumpet, although the music carries on in an easygoing manner. “The Games of War/Lorena” startles with abundant opening strings rambunctiously having sheer fun. Perry incorporated the 19th century ballad Lorena which featured a delightful flügelhorn solo, the notes pure and smooth as though they had sandpapered edges. “Learning to Ride” is all frolicking fun and cracking the whip, as a French horn is accompanied by clippity-clop percussion. The “Title Music” ties the whole story together at the end with triumphant pizzaz and impelling solitary bell strikes. War is finally over!

The Mysterious Stranger
Chris Makepeace, Lance Kerwin and Fred Gwynne in a publicity
photo from The Mysterious Stranger, filmed in 1981.

The “River Scene and Main Titles” beginning overture is soft and dreamy enough to subtly slip the listener back in time, the overall melody drifting downward note by note through the scales. As the liner notes indicate, we are joining the music, and a printer’s apprentice played by Chris Makepeace, as it becomes “a dream within a dream within a dream.” Perry conducted the Vienna Symphony and the Vienna Boys Choir for the 90 minute film, which follows the adventures of a printer’s apprentice from Missouri who daydreams himself back in time to a medieval castle and its  problems in the early printing industry.

The overture effectively sets the stage for the next “acts.” In “44 in Fancy Dress” we are introduced to the magic-performing boy “44” (Lance Kerwin), who joins forces with Makepeace’s character. The two boys, well, will be boys. 44’s magic also happens to be more powerful than the castle alchemist’s (Fred Gwynne) The Vienna Boys Choir shines in their vocals, enhancing the mystical elements of the dream.

In “Fight of the Duplicates” they must also conquer a mutiny among the castle printers; this mutiny situation in the printing trade is something that Twain possibly encountered personally during the course of his career of having works published. The melody pursues the story, with the horns dominating the orchestra in a soon more sombre timbre. “The Burial of 44” is an orchestral dirge. A gentle choral passage, highlighted by a tender solo by one of the members of the Vienna Boy’s Choir, gives a sense of realism to the dream.

For “Love Scene”, Perry, who has admitted he has a fondness for composing romantic themes, gives wings to this excerpt. The choir angelically rises toward  visions, perhaps dreams of other visions. The melody then turns sharply off into a skirmish of dream against nightmare. As the liner notes suggest, “Therefore if one’s life ever becomes difficult, one must “dream other dreams … better ones.” The gentle dreams, however, win the foray, and the melody resumes with sweetly soft vocals and orchestra, increasing in volume and intensity nearing the abrupt high note finale.

In “Closing Music” the opening drums, horn fanfare and strong chorals play like powerfully holding back the reins on fiery steeds. Then like a U-turn, wildness is gentled, and the main melody culminates with gentler chorals of the choir joining the orchestra. In the last minute the orchestra and choir elevate, with the power of grace, bestowing the melody with extraordinary grandeur, befitting the sweetest dream.

Mark Twain as a writer was pretty much the same in his approach. He could start out with a rough and common idea. He could catch the vernacular. Break a heart. Break  down characters with fisticuffs or a browbeating. He built families and towns and sometimes whole universes into his stories, or at least he could transport your imagination to accept his other times and places. He did, at the very least, dream dreams within dreams….

Composer William Perry created the musical magic to spring these Twain stories from the page to the stage and screen, faithful in tone and time. Perry certainly had the feeling of knowing who Twain was and what he was all about, and it only seems natural that a little of Twain’s own magic beyond his words found its way into the composer’s music….

Legendary Composer William Perry – Creating the Score, Silent to Sound


Composer William Perry for many years has been a driving force in seeing silent films re-emerge as small screen and special venue entertainment.

His popular The Silent Years series (1971 and 1975) on PBS were hosted by Orson Welles and Lillian Gish.

In the 1980s, TV productions on American Playhouse and Great Performances featured actresses Lillian Gish and Butterfly McQueen, and actors Christopher Makepeace, Bernard Hughes and a young Christoph Waltz . In the film featuring Waltz in an early role, The Mysterious Stranger (1982), Perry conducted his own score with The Vienna Symphony and the Vienna Boys Choir in Austria. (The scores would be issued on Perry’s “The Innocents Abroad and other Mark Twain films” CD.)

As a composer of film scores and creator and producer of stage musicals such as the long-running Mr. Mark Twain (and which should soon see a revival on a smaller scale), Perry has and will continue to compose internationally themed major works for orchestra and soloists.

Wallis Giunta – The Mezzo With the Magic


Wallis Giunta – The Mezzo With the Magic
by L. Chrystal Dmitrovic

Wallis Giunta is one divine, vivacious redhead who seems to have found her perfect balance on the edge of an exciting whirlwind. As a young, talented singer who is self-admittedly wildly creative in her approaches to life and her music, with that kind of impetuous, enthusiastic to-the-enth focus, she has already made a few unique marks in her music world career – serious and otherwise. An operatic Mezzo Soprano known also for “pants roles,” she is equally at home as a chanteuse of moody torch songs. She’s a lady who can sing the blues with kindred soul, and the dramatic lieder with all adeptness, and she has maturity and sensitivity toward genre and song eras that reveal mastery and experience, suggesting that she has dedicated an extraordinary amount of time perfecting her singing art.

Since 2012, she has made an astonishing number of debuts with opera companies the world over, with return engagements fulfilled or in the wings, and as a devoted recitalist has performed in many North American festivals, and in concert and also in solo productions. A successful 2014 recital tour of Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins to Miami, New York, Toronto and Ottawa, will, for example, see a revival with The Toronto Symphony in June, 2017.

Her voice dances with graceful aplomb to piano accompaniment or full orchestra. She has great command and ease of punctuation in any sung language, and doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to going for high or low notes not usually in her range. She’ll expertly employ gesture according to the opera, and in recital has been seen to use gesture as she sees fit, or as the emotion of a song encourages it. Many an actor from the stage or film can admit that when the emotion of a line or lyric is genuinely felt, it suffuses the mind, body and the vocal – and likewise the musical entertainer finds that the spontaneity erupts in thrilling lyrical tones most effortlessly in time and tune to the twists and turns of the libretto.

I’m so pleased and honoured to now present a recent interview with Miss Giunta, “the Mezzo with the magic.”

wallis1-dario-acosta-1280x853Photo © 2015: Dario Acosta

LC: A love for music or art has a definite start point somewhere for everyone. How did it all begin for you, Wallis? Did you hear a pop song on the radio? Do you remember when you first heard an operatic song and discovered that you liked it?

Wallis: My parents got a Maria Callas recording when I was 6 or 7 years old (a Best-Of CD, I believe), and whenever they played it I would sing along and imitate her. I’m sure I was terrible, but I remember loving the feeling of singing in that way, and I guess I was hooked.

LC: While you were very young, did your family in any way encourage a love for music and song, and if so, how?

Wallis: Yes, my parents started me in piano at age five, which I kept up for 10 years, and they were wonderfully supportive of my decision to start singing seriously when I was about 8. I joined a choir then, and started private singing lessons soon after that. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay my mum for all the hours she spent driving me to my lessons, and nail-biting her way through my early singing competitions! My sister and brother are also musical, and it was awesome to have them to make music with when we were young. We had some pretty entertaining family sing-alongs on long car rides.

LC: Part of your formal training included studying under Canadian-born Edith Wiens, who had studied and performed in Germany, and who is now a faculty professor of voice at The Juilliard School. As an operatic singer of note, as one of your teachers and mentors also with the the Lindemann Program at the Met, what did she especially impart to you over the years about performance and being a singer, aside from technicalities? Are you still under her guidance today?

Wallis: I do still study with Edith, at every chance I get! What I love about our work together is that she addresses every aspect of the singer’s preparation, from language skills to intention, poise, vocal colour, and, of course, technique. Also, as someone who has had such an important performing career, she can draw on her personal experience to offer invaluable professional advice. Very few teachers are in a position to do that, actually, so I consider myself lucky. Edith’s greatest asset as a teacher, though, is her ability to inspire us students to be as genuine, unique and sincere as possible. She is not interested in the superficial presentation, but in a deep, connected artistry that comes from each singer’s place of inner beauty. She is very inspiring.

LC: The same year you graduated from the Lindemann Program and Juilliard’s Opera Studies, you, for example, made your Metropolitan Opera debut in Rigoletto, and in the roles of Sesto and Annio in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito with the Canadian Opera Company (COC). Your talent for rapid “runs” has been mentioned by a reviewer in regard to your performance in this opera Mozart’s CLEMENZA DI TITO. In a later video of you in recital you so clearly enjoy performing Sesto’s aria. To demonstrate such virtuosity in a debut is commendable.

Wallis: I absolutely love singing coloratura runs! My voice is naturally suited to that style, and I find it just the right kind of challenge for me – mastering the high flying demands of Handel, Vivaldi, Rossini, and to a degree, Mozart. I’m going to try and keep that style in my repertoire as long as I can.

LC: When and how did you discover that you were meant to be a mezzo, that it was your most comfortable range? Did you always want to be a mezzo, or was mezzo something that chose you and you realized that you had found your musical calling? Were you inspired to become a singer by any specific mezzo-soprano?

Wallis: I started as a soprano early on, and switched to mezzo at age 19. It was something suggested by my wonderful teacher in Toronto, Jean MacPhail. She heard one note out of my mouth, and had me switched to lower repertoire right away. I’m super comfortable in this range, and I know we made the right choice early on.

LC: A mezzo is often challenged with coloratura passages and spinto soprano ranges. When I read some reviews of your performances, at times I sensed that the reviewers wanted to put you in the soprano category. Lindsay Christians wrote about your “Una voce poco fa” in The Barber of Seville: “Her high notes soared; her embellishments sounded effortless.” Do you think one day that you might naturally move into the realm of a soprano?

Wallis: No, I don’t think so. Reviewers always hear their own thing, and that’s just fine – of course they are entitled to their subjective opinion. But I know what works for me, and I’m quite happy where I am.

wallis-8-dario-acosta-853x1280Photo © 2015: Dario Acosta

LC: Some reviewers have described your voice as having amber and chocolaty qualities, denoting richness. I must agree, your voice is absolutely gorgeous in mid-range, and also gives sensational thrills and delightful chills on high notes that are pure, unrestrained and in perfect pitch. Is this kind of versatility of the perceptions of your voice’s nature something you hope to expand in the future?

Wallis: Thank you! The lovely thing about being a singer is that our voices change constantly, all throughout our lives. Some days I wake up and feel like I’ve developed new colours overnight. I’m not going to try and actively cultivate anything, but I look forward to seeing where my voice goes with time.

LC: Do you sing other languages phonetically, or did you gain a working knowledge of a language first? You are very intuitive and expressive in German, French and Spanish. Your dramatic delivery of Schubert’s “Am Feierabend,” to put it plainly, is shockingly brilliant. Although the situation is from a more innocent time, that worker’s “party time” never came to his desired fruition, intensely hoping he would impress the milkmaid and be noticed by her. You so evocatively captured the worker’s multifaceted feelings when transposing from the English to the German. How does that process go for you, from your initial sight reading?

For the reader’s benefit, the English lyrics of Am Feierabend:
If only I had a thousand
arms to move!
I could loudly
drive the wheels!
I could blow
Through all the groves!
I could turn
All the stones!
If only the beautiful Millermaid
Would notice my faithful thoughts!
Ah, why is my arm so weak?
What I lift, what I carry,
What I cut, what I beat,
Every lad does it just as well as I do.
And there I sit in the great gathering,
In the quiet, cool hour of rest,
And the master speaks to us all:
Your work has pleased me;
And the lovely maiden says
“Good night” to everyone.

Wallis: I don’t speak German fluently (yet!), but I make sure to deeply acquaint myself with the translation of whatever I am singing, in German, or any language that’s not my mother tongue. I have to be able to tell the story to communicate effectively, which requires an understanding of what I’m saying. I usually translate first, and then learn the music with my phonetic understanding of the original text. It used to take a lot of time to learn a new song/aria, but I’m pretty quick about it now.

LC: You also recently stated that you are currently on a Strauss Lieder bent; what is it about those poetic songs that made you record Strauss’ first three opuses? Is this CD available yet? You mentioned you viewed contemporary German tenor Jonas Kaufman as your gold standard for the interpretation of the music. What is the specific appeal for you about Kaufman’s style and affinity for Strauss Lieder?

Wallis: I had the opportunity to record the Strauss with a pianist colleague of mine, Carson Becke, who is a Strauss scholar and Doctoral Candidate at Oxford. He is putting together three CDs of all of Strauss’s early works, and I was the lucky singer he chose to collaborate with on the vocal CD. And yes, our recording is available on iTunes! I love the passion with which Kauffman interprets everything he does, and I think he’s particularly suited to Strauss. Plus, as a German, he has an undeniable authenticity.


As related by Wallis about her latest CD release: Pianist Carson Becke and I have some very exciting news, with the iTunes release of our Richard Strauss Lieder album! It was recorded in 2014 at the Festival Pontiac Enchanté. We’re so grateful to Ulysses Arts for their help with the release and mastering!

LC: You’ve played the Cherubino “trousers” role on more than one occasion, in which you delightfully stir the pot of audience and critic reactions. Everyday Opera wrote: “Wallis Giunta in the famous Cherubino “pants role” more than nailed the overly comedic character. [She] let her full mezzo-soprano voice sing out, creating a wonderful performance within her “Non so più cosa son cosa faccio” aria in the first act. Between her hilarious over-the-top antics and the way she used a full, round sound, with strong initial phrase attacks in a seemingly effortless manner to deepen her voice, she was able to portray a believable, girl-crazy, young boy.” Was this as much fun for you as it was for the viewer and listener?

Wallis: Yes, it sure was! That production was really special to me, as it was in my hometown of Ottawa, and also on the same stage where I sang in my first ever opera, in the chorus of Madama Butterfly at age 15…which is about the age of Cherubino.

LC: About the 2012 production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro with the Fort Worth Opera, Theatre Jones, John Norine Jr. wrote: “One of the subplots…concerns the page, Cherubino sung by mezzo soprano Wallis Giunta. Highly physical, Giunta has to sing while on her back, under a couch, and almost every other position imaginable. Through all of this, she manages to maintain a beautiful tone and excellent diction.” Some might say this would be a miracle to accomplish, but in reality of course was the result of hard work. What kind of choreography and rehearsal do you go through to achieve such impeccable timing for comedy and song?

Wallis: It really varies; some productions come together in just a few days if they’re remounts, or it could be as long as 6-7 weeks for a new production. The average is about 3-4 weeks, and I think that’s what we had in Fort Worth. What makes it easier, though, is when you revisit a role for the second, third, fourth time, and you no longer have to think about the singing the same way. You can just explore the character!

LC: As Angelina in the title role in Rossini’s La Cenerentola at Oper Leipzig in 2016 your versatility in “Non più mesta” while so dramatic and melodically in the mezzo range, you were described in Opernnetz by Andreas H. Höscherby as achieving “the difficult coloratura and parlando sections with seemingly effortless ease.” Did you find that to be technically true for yourself as well for the wonderfully, incredibly beautiful “Naqui all’affanno” aria in Act II?

Wallis: I was really happy with my first Rossini role, in Leipzig this past season. While I am sure I can improve, and I definitely plan to, I think I’m quite well suited to this repertoire, which shows off the better aspects of my voice and technique. I’m grateful for the chance to sing Angelina again this season, for Opera North in the UK.

wallis_giunta-_cenerentolaIn performance, Wallis as Angelina costumed in the party dress. From the Leipzig Opera production of Cenerentola, March 17, 2016. (Photo © 2016: Kirsten Nijhof)

LC: Your voice and virtuosity, at least to me, very much call to mind Julia Hamari, the famous Hungarian mezzo who also played Angelina in La Cenerentola. Have you ever experienced or felt any kinship or similarities with her voice and repertoire? Or whom might you compare yourself vocally with present and historical singers?

Wallis: I have often been compared by others to Frederica von Stade, but I really feel a kinship with Teresa Berganza. I think it’s something about her temperament and passion that I identify with. She was so seductive through her perfect combination of restraint and abandon.

From left to right, Al Lewis, Daniel Mobbs, Wallis Giunta and Sir Thomas Allen, during a performance of The Merry Widow at The Metropolitan Opera on April 26, 2016. (Photo © 2016: Ken Howard)

LC: You were among the cast as Olga with Renee Fleming during your 2015 return to the Metropolitan Opera in their production of The Merry Widow. Any special moments or highlights to share?

Wallis: Well, I don’t know if it’s my place to spill the beans, but we started a little tradition of having a party in one of the dressing rooms after every performance. It began innocently enough, with one of the guys, who happened to have a mini-fridge in his dressing room, bringing in a few beers and some pretzels for us to share after the show. Then with each show the ante got upped, until by the end of it we were having wild potluck parties ‘til the wee hours, with the whole cast packed into a very warm little dressing room. The security staff were surprisingly tolerant. And luckily we had sufficient days between performances to recover …

LC: 2015 also saw you in roles in your first Wagner operas, Parsifal and Die Walküre, and also as Mercédès in Carmen at Oper Frankfurt. Was Wagner as dark and foreboding as its customary reputation or did you have a previous acquaintance with the treasure trove of his musical depths and impressions?


Wallis explains about this selfie, taken June 20, 2016: Today was my first day at Oper Frankfurt – I’m here to sing Mercédès in their incredible new production of #Carmen! Within 10 minutes of arriving at the theatre, I’d been whisked up to the costume department, stripped to my knickers and measured from head to toe for my costume. Of course, this is standard procedure for day one at a new opera company, but it’s still a pretty cheeky welcome. Hehehe … I love my job! (Photo © 2016: Wallis Giunta)

Wallis: I had only ever been an audience member for Wagner operas before last season – I never had sung it. I have to say, I like his operas even more from the stage than the audience! It’s incredible to be a part of that kind of music making.

LC: Listening to you sing “Il padre adorato” from Idomeneo by Mozart, your voice is full and rich seeming to naturally find those sweet spots in the hall. Equally bravura, is you in recital with Peter Dugan on piano in July 2015’s Music and Beyond Festival for Parto, Parto,” Sesto’s aria from La Clemenza di Tito also by Mozart. Generally, whether in the larger venue, or the smaller hall, what do you seek out first to take full advantage to accent a performance? Are there any other prerequisites like knowing the acoustics? Do you favour a particular talisman for good vibes – perhaps similar in practice to our Canadian Finance ministers wearing new shoes when delivering government budgets in parliament?

Wallis: I consider myself lucky to NOT have any superstitions or pre-requisites, actually, because if I ever was deprived of my needed ritual, I would not want to feel like I couldn’t go on without it! I do like to test out a space before I perform in it, and get enough water the day of, but otherwise, I’m pretty easy going.

LC: As with many singers, Handel’s Messiah is part of your repertoire. Is there any song in the oratorio that is especially significant or meaningful to you, and that you enjoy singing either solo or in chorus?

Wallis: I simply adore the chorus “All we like sheep”. I think it is brilliant and delightful, and it makes me happy to hear it. I always quietly sing along whenever I am on stage for that part.

LC: You are featured on the 2014 CD “Music for Great Films of the Silent Era, Vol. 2,” issued by NAXOS. What was the attraction for you to do the project?

Wallis: I got to know the composer, Bill Perry, in New York, and he offered me the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful project! I love how he chose to tell the stories of these women and actresses from the silent film era, and to give them a new voice. I also loved the opportunity to record in Ireland, so that I could connect with my family there (I’m an Irish citizen as well!)

LC: Your sister has accompanied you in recital on acoustic guitar. How did that evolve? You must be fans of each others music.

Wallis: I do love my sister’s original music, and I have always loved making music WITH her. We have been singing together since we were little kids, in choirs, musicals, and around the campfire, and I will include her in my performances any chance I can get. She is a wonderful singer in her own right, but also an amazing guitar player, which comes in handy, as I am a terrible guitar player.

LC: Is there an operatic role, invented/borrowed from another musical genre, that you would like to perform if given the opportunity? You’ve mentioned The Who’s Quadrophenia as Pete Townsend’s masterpiece, and that you would love to take on Jimmy as a pants role. What is it about Quadrophenia that fascinates you, and are there any other contemporary original music albums/singles or stage plays/musicals you could envision as fresh, new operatic productions?

Wallis: I grew up listening to The Who, and Jimmy’s story just really touched a nerve for me when I was in high school. I think it would make a perfect opera, and a really cool bridge between the two genres. I also think it’s high time for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to be an opera. Viola really needs to be sung by a mezzo, and I volunteer.

LC: You’ve mentioned that John Lennon’s “Imagine” is a favourite song and that it restores balance to your life; you sing it a capella in recitals. What specifically makes it meaningful to you? The lyrics, the melody, Lennon’s calm delivery? Did it bring you comfort at some point in your life? It is a song that certainly restores faith and strength when you hear what is going on the world today at times. Is it also because you can “see” the peaceful world that Lennon envisions?

Wallis: It’s definitely the lyrics, but also the hopeful rise of the melody in the chorus. I feel like it’s pure and perfect, as a song. I really respect Lennon for what he stood for, what he sacrificed, and what he inspired in so may of us, and that song is his legacy.

LC: What are among your other favourite songs, no matter the musical genre? A personal favourite role, either operatic or musical entertainer? Do you have a favourite contemporary composer, and why? And do you especially like any historical composers whose operatic works you think should be staged more often?

Wallis: I really love alt-country, folk, bluegrass, and the music of Ray Lamontagne, Patty Griffin, Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris. I could name you hundreds of songs! There are too many. A favourite role would be Iago in Verdi’s Otello. My favourite contemporary composer would be John Adams, I think. He chooses such powerful subject matter, and his musical textures can be breathtaking. I am always looking for more Monteverdi to be performed. His work is utter brilliance, and so potent and applicable today!

LC: What role of any opera and/or in musical theatre has been the most fun to perform? What role likewise have you found to be the most challenging?

Wallis: I love to sing Britten most of all, and I think Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been a favourite. I found Annio in La Clemenza di Tito to be the most challenging, as it sits very high for me – and because he’s just such a good guy, he’s kind of hard to bring to life in a vivid way. It’s always easier to get into the more complicated and troubled characters.

LC: You have literally sung in recital, in various symphony concerts and opera productions worldwide the last number of years. It sounds like you maybe have spent quite a bit of time rehearsing and residing in hotel rooms, and travelling on planes, trains, buses and automobiles. Have you ever found yourself spontaneously breaking into song solo, or with coperformers in a company, while perhaps refining a passage or phrase or just shouting out for joy, much to the delight of a driver or airbound audience?

Wallis: I often have to sing in hotel rooms, and I am sure it is often not to the delight of my nearby neighbours. But I do love to sing and practice while riding my bike, and people always seem to get a kick out of that! There was one time I tried to perform on a flight to Tokyo with some choir members when I was younger, but the engines were so loud that no one could hear us. I guess it would only have worked if they’d put us on the loud-speaker. Maybe next time …

LC: What has your musical and operatic journey so far meant to you? What has it revealed to you about yourself and what you’re capable of. What did you discover about music and yourself that you didn’t know before? And, are you ready for the next “leap”?

Wallis: I am so fortunate for the career I have, and there’s not a day I take it for granted. I’ve discovered along the way how thick of a skin I have, but at the same time, how fragile I am. I have learned to be self-reliant, independent, to not compare myself to others, and to strive for my artistic truth. Yeah, I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for what life has in store for me.

Truly, Wallis is the Mezzo with the magic, traversing the world – perhaps waving from a mountaintop or posing in a resplendent gown on The Met stage – but always in a cascade of music and joy. She’ll soon appear as Dido in Opera Atelier’s production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto, running on selected days from October 22 to 29.

This feature interview and photos were excerpted from the article “Wallis Giunta – The Mezzo With the Magic” appearing in the Fall 2016 issue of The Empress

CD Review: William Perry’s Music for Great Films of the Silent Era Part Two

557705bk Monster

William Perry’s Music for Great Films of the Silent Era Part Two CD
Reviewed by L. Chrystal Dmitrovic

With a hop, skip and a jump, and a dance step or two thrown in, it’s easy to envision a stage production of this CD. It could very possibly make for glorious musical theatre. The names on the kino marquee bordered in flashing lights could be after the style of the CD liner notes cover photo:

William Perry’s Music for Great Films of the Silent Era Part Two
Wallis Giunta (Mezzo)
John Brancy (Baritone)
Timothy Hutchins (flute)
Nick Byrne (ophicleide)
Michael Chertock (piano, organ)
Paul Phillips (conductor)
RTE National Symphony Orchestra (Ireland)

Maybe a production like this would open off-Broadway, or in the best little British jazz club this side of 1920s Singapore. The sidewalk standee with a montage of players, would include the burnished vermillion-redhead, Wallis Giunta, her Rapunzeline tresses blowing wildly in the wind, and maybe she’s gowned in lush, royal verdant. With a few back-up singers, a chorus line and full orchestra pit, Wallis could perform as the eight different actresses she embodied in song from the CD playlist.

In the reality that is the CD, Wallis’ charismatic, enthusiastic energy undergirds her tracks, and her extraordinary artistry lights the fuse to ensuing musical fireworks. With a moody sense of history, she raises her vocal arms in an inviting embrace, reaching above the clouds in song to charm with all the silvery-golden nuances and highlights she finds, and she also stretches out to the sides in climactic fury to catch the intense, darker tumults of the drama. In the entertaining, intricate and skilled framework of talent that includes the cast and orchestra, Wallis Giunta is free to be “the Mezzo with the magic.”

Dreams do come true on Broadway or the silver screen, but this review centres mostly upon Wallis Giunta and her exemplary vocal contributions to composer William Perry’s personal tribute to some of the greatest heroines of silent film and related music included on Music for Great Films of the Silent Era – Part Two CD.

Track 1 for Lillian Gish, (Orphans of the Storm, 1921) * Wallis has a remarkable capacity for sensitively and concisely interpreting the storyline of lyrics and melody as one entity. She expertly imparts the emotions of crisis while seeking shelter from the storm of the French Revolution. The listener experiences the fear and pride of patriotism and duty, loss of innocence and trust, the blessed rescue, the later soft-edged recollections of the horrors of “the storm,”  and the sentimentality of making new memories to cherish and the heartwarming bliss of post-war normalcy and family life. Her succinct timing and phrasing, and gently decreasing vocal for the last part of the song, has you visualizing that growing-smaller circle of the film fading out into the end credits.

Track 2 – for Mary Pickford (Pollyanna, 1920) * In direct contrast to the first track, this song exudes an unquelled “skipping down the sidewalk” joy that all future Pollyannas of the world should espouse. Life is exhilarating, brimming with promises of happiness and the rewards of taking chances. That thrilling scenario needs no words, really, as Wallis vocalizes into the finale with cheery, positive attitude after singing, “telling your fears ‘Go fly a kite’.”

Track 3 – Greta Garbo (A Woman of Affairs, 1928) * With warm and sultry overtones, it’s still a cool jazz rendition meant especially for those whose hearts are filled with longing. The “mind’s eye” soon picks up on the sound of a smouldering torch song as it drifts from the recital hall beginning into the lonely hearts, art deco smoke-filled jazz bar in the latter half, “seeing” the voluptuous red-haired chanteuse lounging with an elbow along the piano top, languidly caressing those minor notes. All the while, the powdered dance floor sways to the beat of a heady, flamboyant kaleidoscope of fluttery flapper skirts and crisp tuxedos. Wallis really opens the treasure chest and exults in the era’s stylish, distinctive sound. This gal can sing the jazz and the blues with the best any day.

Track 4 – Gloria Swanson (Fine Manners, 1926) * This number has fun with etiquette, spilling over with fanciful, witty and occasionally naughty lyrics in the finest tradition of early stage musicals. What is your ought and/or your delight? Listen closely, it’s a sign of the times list – opera, art, high fashion, vivaciously quipped in fabulous rhyming lyrics emphasizing all that high society was back in the 1920s, and all bang-on in its particular enunciation and manner. To top it all off, what a fabulous finish line. Wallis has it hands down, with poise, drama and asking the perfectly posed rhetorical question – “Aint I the Deal?”  Yes, she definitely is!

Track 5 – Vilma Banky (The Night of Love, 1927) * With its tender, tearfully romantic violin and piano intro, this song recalls those great old restaurant table-to-table serenades, with snippets here and there of traditional-sounding Slavonic dances spiced with the tapping of a tambourine. Overall, the melody brings to mind many great musical films such as the Noel Coward-scored Bittersweet (1940), and most any movie musical starring Hungarian soprano Ilona Massey. The song celebrates the free-living, passionate souls of wandering gypsy minstrels and dancers.  And Wallis hits that one brief perfect flat in the phrase “for every night will be a wondrous night of  love” to exquisite effect in the lyrical scale-climb almost near the end; the rising vocal at the song’s very end is breathtakingly gorgeous, too.

Track 6 – Betty Bronson (Peter Pan, 1924) * For a short time in training with the Ballet Russe actress Betty represented in this song does everything possible to become a Hollywood star by pining and preparing to clinch the role of Peter Pan. (Bronson would later go on to play another fairy tale character, Cinderella.) Wallis sings her story with “catch-your-breath” excitement, depicting an ingenue who has teeming angst and starry dreams in her eyes, and who then suddenly discovers as the lyrics say, “on the marquee of some kino, you may see my name in lights.”  The orchestra intuitively follows Wallis’ compelling inflections unfolding along with Betty’s ecstatic emotions.

Track 7 – Pearl White (The Perils of Pauline, 1914) * By her voice and fully allied with the orchestra, Wallis parts those theatre curtains with white-knuckle drama and anticipation. The melody and lyrics have the headlong onrush of being at the edge of the waterfall, encouraging the listener to graphically imagine the next peril around the bend. Will Pearl be rescued this time? was likely the question at the time on every theatre-goer’s mind when watching instalments of her “cliffhanger” shorts. Wallis’ natural enthusiasm and acting talent enhances her delivery, which is pleasantly reminiscent of Ethel Merman at her top form.

William Perry:  Wallis Giunta recording the “Silent Film Heroines” Song-Suite for Mezzo Soprano and Orchestra, by William Perry. Paul Phillips conducted the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra (Ireland) at the National Concert Hall, Dublin. June, 2014, for Volume II of the Naxos Film Music Classics project: Music for Great Films of the Silent Era.

Track 8 – Janet Gaynor (Seventh Heaven, 1927) * Romantic lyrics were representative of popular songs in the 1920s, with the focus on searching for the sweetest, perfect love and idyllic happiness.  It’s easy to perceive Wallis inwardly clasping her hands in a plea as the story rolls along sad roads of tragedy and war, through long years and precious stolen moments, and  then onto the metaphoric climbing – that so very desperate climbing of stairs – that culminates with time-stopping “was it yesterday, is it today, or is it the wished-for tomorrow of dreams?” climactic memories of that one perfect love finally found. You will certainly verge into tears listening to the last tumultuous minute of such a love, sung about by Wallis with tender compassion, a love that could only be rediscovered in that misty dimension of the heart known as Seventh Heaven.

Track 9 – What would become known one day as Summer Nocturne for Flute and Orchestra was originally composed as the score for the screening of Three Wise Fools (1923) for a MOMA retrospective of Director King Vidor in 1972. In 1988, Perry finally recorded this grand theme. Now included on this 2014 CD, it sweeps at a natural point into a type of splendid overture/entre act that would have been used yesteryear to precede opening credits, or bridge parts one and two of many epic and lengthy films screened at theatres. Listening now in the car or at home, go to that drive-through, or make yourself a coffee or tea, pop some more popcorn, put a few more macarons on that pretty china saucer while the lovely “intermission” plays. This section of the CD, and really, the entire CD, can be enjoyed anywhere and anytime, perhaps with an extra tea biscuit or an exalted brandy.


Silent film score composers and piano accompanists: William Perry (left) and Ben Model, who’s holding a copy of Mr. Perry’s earlier CD, Music for Great Films of the Silent Era, released in 2011. (Photo courtesy of Ben Model/Undercrank Productions)

Tracks 10, 11, 12, 13 are Perry’s instrumental compositions for orchestra and ophicleide (a unique and once common horn). The Blue, Military, Pastoral and Latin songs hail back to various styles of background and incidental music that once provided atmosphere and conveyed emotion, augmented location and era settings, and fit the bill to enrich silent film scenes when needed. Suggestive notes augmented the falling tear, the hesitant flutter of eyelashes, and the trembling bottom lip. The music was part actor in these contexts.

Track 14 – The grand finale of the CD, Hearts of the World was inspired by the re-score William Perry had written for D.W. Griffith’s 1918 WWI film of the same name. Despite the historical significance of that film, with many cameo appearances by real-life personalities (titled and common) and other actors (uncredited), it remains controversial to this day. Its original release on the tail end of The Great War was also a pot-stirrer, and literally disrupted ongoing peace talks at Versailles, and it was universally criticized for its uncommon depiction of brutal acts during the war. Before release, many cuts were made to the film by various cities and states in which it would be shown.

According to reviewer Matt Barry in his 2008 write-up:
“The copy of Hearts of the World that I viewed derived from a Killiam Shows print, available on VHS from Republic Pictures Home Video. This copy contains tinting and a nice piano score by William Perry. The restoration was performed by Karl Malkames. This video edition contains the original newsreel prologue, showing Griffith at work in the trenches and meeting with Prime Minister David Lloyd George. While the video itself is out of print, copies can probably still be located online or through independent outlets.”

As related on the Classical MPR site on November 1, 2014:
Perry was working as the music director at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in the early 1970s when he was asked to write a score for one of MoMA’s many archived silent films, Hearts of the World (1918), directed by D.W. Griffith.

“I had the great luxury of knowing and being able to communicate as necessary with Lillian Gish, who was the major star of the film,” Perry recalls, “and so I could get some hints about exactly what was happening in the shooting and how she felt the storyline would unwind … things that I could use in musical terms.”

Telling the epic story of World War I through the lens of the village is what Perry sees as the film’s strength. Says Perry, “There is sweep to the scenes, and that really required that the title music especially would have a sweep to it. Then it gets down and very personal … before we know it, war has actually swept through that village, changed it forever. And this is where the epic and the personal really come together.”

Returning now to my review, in summary, specially for 2014 to commemorate the beginning of WWI and honour those who served, Perry refashioned his original piano score into a full orchestral piece with narration and vocal accompaniment. He also recalled those insights he’d initially received directly in the early 1970s from the film’s star, Lillian Gish, enabling him to newly flesh out his composition with more authenticity and accuracy.

The resulting updated version is a superbly revitalized and appropriately sentimental homage to the original film and the memory of soldiers who had served in that most terrible Great War.

For this piece, John Brancy’s is a pleasant baritone, and he is also a masterful narrator; recounting singular horrors by battle and year, with Wallis’ mezzo a flourish of gentle musical sighs throughout the unfolding story, and all is accented by the punctuated score. When Brancy and Giunta harmonize in duet, as they crescendo to the melody and for the storyline, they call to mind, and daresay surpass, some of the greatest operatic singing teams of history.

Above: NAXOS Mini-documentary, recording session, Music For Great Films of the Silent Era – Part Two (link courtesy of William Perry)

The composition itself is so well formed, the singing so flawless, flowing and heartfelt, the orchestration so brilliantly delved deep into an era filled with enough hope to rise above the circumstances of war, that the 12 minute-plus track seems to carry the listener along swiftly and leaves them wanting to listen to much, much more.

Unquestionably, this is one of Perry’s masterpieces, this theme that “could have been” back in the early 1970s when it received 2 performances only at the limited MOMA screening of Hearts of the World and had never been recorded. On this occasion, Perry was able to take his original score, again recall Lillian Gish’s own insights, all his own memories of his father’s memories of serving in that war, and then pull everything together to achieve and preserve the authentic remembrances of a world that was veritably almost destroyed. Perry achieved the near-impossible in this one recording – preserving in melody and lyrics that rescue from total desolation that came about by humanity’s determination to regain peace through great sacrifice. It stands as a monument to the human spirit in a world today that sadly still knows the same horrors of war that the WWI generation had to endure and rise above.

With such themes of hope composed by William Perry, with Wallis Giunta and the others performing with unabashed sincerity, the Music for the Great Films of the Silent Era Part Two CD has succeeded in reminding that the arts of music and film have always joined hands in peaceful strength. Many a silent film carried a lonely heart in the theatre seat through the Great War. Many a song unconditionally held out hope. Everybody was holding on, waiting for that sunrise when peace would finally come. A day that would be a delightful melody in itself, with later days filled with celebration and remembering  –  all of which can be experienced to the full in Perry’s CD, Music for the Great Films of the Silent Era, Part Two.

CD Available from:

Links of Interest for Wallis Giunta:
Video clips
Upcoming performances

This review was excerpted from the article “Wallis Giunta – The Mezzo With the Magic” appearing in the Fall 2016 issue of The Empress