Shannon Jennings, Soprano
February can be a rather dreary and cold month. So, as we await the departure of frigid winds and slushy sidewalks, we would like to offer a glimpse of sunshine to our Operapolitan readers. This February, we are happy to celebrate a gifted artist who possesses a voice that speaks to the soul with a beautiful balance of clarity, depth, brightness, and comforting warmth. See and hear for yourself (in the video below) as you enjoy her performance from the 2017 Mildred Miller International Voice Competition where she performs "Tu che di gel sei cinta" from Puccini's Turandot and Juliette's Poison Aria from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. After listening, be sure to read on to learn more about Shannon Jennings, her favorite things, and what inspires her!
Enjoy, and Happy February to all!
Shannon Jennings performing as the Second Prize Winner
in the 2017 Mildred Miller International Voice Competition
Getting to know Shannon...
What is your favorite aspect of being an opera singer?
I love how much opera has changed me as a person. I love how much it's forced me to examine myself, to go outside of my comfort zone, and to grow as a human being. The constant journey of self-improvement that is necessary to stay in this career can be exhausting, but it makes my life rich in ways I never expected.
What do you do for fun?
I love to cook, and enjoy outdoor activities in the sun (and warmth - not a cold weather girl). Canoeing, snorkeling, hiking, and checking out local historic and cultural sites. When the weather is too cold to go outside, I like to knit and make jewelry. Pittsburgh is very cold... I'm making a lot of jewelry lately.
What is your favorite food?
Cuban food. My mom's side of the family is Cuban, and it's the comfort food I took for granted growing up in central Florida. As I moved further and further from Florida, I decided I needed to learn how to make all my favorite dishes. Now I make picadillo, lechon asado, ropa vieja, frijoles negros, arroz con pollo, bistec empanizado, and flan. This year, my husband and I have progressed to making our own pastelitos, empanadas, and papas rellenas. All served with café cubano, of course.
What is your favorite holiday?
Christmas. Specifically spending time with friends and family, cooking together, Cuban Noche Buena (Christmas Eve feast), putting gifts together, admiring Christmas lights, and enjoying beautiful music. My favorite Christmas album is Chanticleer's first album, Our Heart's Joy.
Favorite TV Series?
My favorite sitcom is Frasier. My parents watched this show when I was a kid, but it wasn't until later that I got the jokes! So many opera references, too. My favorite drama would have to be Outlander, although the books are even better. The audio books are incredibly well done, and I highly recommend them for long journeys.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I'm a proud nerd, and even have Arwen's Evenstar necklace. It was the first gift my husband ever gave to me... I knew he was the one. We also have replicas of the swords Sting and Glamdring.
What is your dream vacation?
The Hawaiian Islands, no question. I'm fortunate to have visited Oahu twice, and still haven't done everything on my wish list. My "happy place" I often revisit in my mind is snorkeling on the north side of the island at Shark's Cove (no danger of sharks), swimming next to giant parrot fish.
Puccini, for sure. Both as a singer and an audience member.
At the moment, "Vissi d'arte."
It's a tie between Madama Butterfly and Floyd's Susannah.
Who is your favorite opera singer and why?
Oh Lord. I don't think I could ever narrow it down. I have a rotating list of singers that occupy my attention. Mirella Freni, Leontyne Price, Renata Tebaldi, Maria Callas, Renata Scotto, Teresa Stratas. All these singers have an arresting sound that you instantly know is theirs. Incredible use of resonance for both technical execution and expression.
Do you have a favorite opera house?
I loved visiting the Semperoper in Dresden where I saw Boris Goudonov with René Pape in 2010. What a beautiful theater, and such a gorgeous city with so much history.
Do you have a dream role that you have yet to perform?
The standard in my mind has always been Butterfly. Along the way, people have had widely varying opinions about my voice, my capabilities, and what I should or shouldn't sing. I wondered whether I would ever get to sing this music, and often kept from voicing that I wanted to sing it, for fear of being berated. Silly Shannon. This coming summer, I have the honor of covering the role at Santa Fe Opera. I about fell over when I got the offer. I can't fully express how excited I am about it.
What are three things you cannot be without when traveling to a gig?
My singing has been taking me out west to places like San Francisco, Colorado, and New Mexico, and I'm very much an East Coast, sea-level gal. So I'd have to say a humidifier is most important. Mine looks like an elephant, and it's adorable. My iPad for my audio books and nightly unwinding with Netflix. And a good pair of sneakers for going on adventures.
Do you have any pre-performance traditions or superstitions?
One of my first teachers told me that she spends the day of a performance cleaning. I've adopted this, and found that it keeps me preoccupied with something productive so that I don't waste energy fretting over the performance. Sometimes I spend time writing "thank you" cards to the cast/staff/crew, which keeps me focused on gratitude. Otherwise, it's all about self-care. Being well-rested, eating healthy, and staying hydrated.
Operapolitan is so thankful to Shannon for giving us a glimpse into her world- and what a wonderful world it is! To learn even more about Shannon, please visit the artist's website: ShannonJennings.com
Shannon Jennings Biography
Soprano Shannon Jennings has been described as "a lovely lilting voice that tugs at the heartstrings." She is a second-year Resident Artist with Pittsburgh Opera for 2017-18, where her roles include Contessa Almaviva (cover) in Le nozze di Figaro, Aunt Sarah/Iraqi Woman/Shrink in The Long Walk, and Giannetta in L'elisir d'amore. Last season, her roles included Slave in Salome, Liù (cover) in Turandot, and Constanza in the rarely seen Handel opera, Richard the Lionheart. Pittsburgh in the Round wrote that Shannon was “a vision and sang treacherously difficult music with what seemed to be the greatest of ease and with a voice of beautiful quality and quantity.” Shannon will be spending summer 2018 as an Apprentice Artist with Santa Fe Opera, where she will cover Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly.
Shannon was a participant in the 2016 Merola Opera Program, where she sang Anne Sexton in Conrad Susa's Transformations. After the Merola Grand Finale concert in the War Memorial Opera House, the Bay Area Reporter wrote that "her darker sound and clear tone have a blooming quality that easily filled the big opera-house acoustic." Other recent roles include Marguerite in Faust with Annapolis Opera, Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte with Florida Opera Theatre (now Opera Orlando), Josephine in HMS Pinafore with Virginia Opera, Mimì in La bohème with DC Public Opera, and Guenevere in Camelot with Virginia Opera, for which AltDaily praised her as "the perfect blend of beauty and spirit," after she appeared in the role for the detained lead in a nearly sold-out performance.
In addition to Pittsburgh Opera and the Merola Opera Program, Shannon has held residencies with Virginia Opera, Central City Opera, Ash Lawn Opera (now Charlottesville Opera), Wolf Trap Opera, and the Mittelsächsisches Theater in Freiberg, Germany, where she began her career performing Pamina in Die Zauberflöte. Shannon has sung as a soloist with Washington Concert Opera, the Virginia Symphony, the Richmond Symphony, and the Mittelsächsisches Philharmonie. This season, she won 2nd Prize in the 2017 Mildred Miller International Voice Competition hosted by Pittsburgh Festival Opera. Shannon also placed as a Capitol District Winner in the 2016-17 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and 4th Place winner of the 2015 Annapolis Opera Vocal Competition.
Originally from Orlando, FL, Shannon is a graduate of Florida State University, where she was sought after for collaborations in 20th and 21st century music, due to her instrumental background, musicianship, and ability of perfect pitch. She is also as much an actress as a musician, which is a hallmark of her performances.