We’re continuing our Faust cast features with our Marguerite, Shannon Jennings! Shannon was a winner of our 27th Annual Vocal Competition, and we’re thrilled that she’s back in Annapolis with us for Faust!
What led you to a career in singing?
“I come from a family of musicians. I grew up singing in choirs, and playing various instruments, including trumpet for nine years. But it was my love of theatre and my Thespian activities that ultimately led to my pursuit of opera. Throughout high school, I was set on being an actor, but the more I studied music theatre, the less I cared for the modern pop/rock repertoire. I knew I wanted to sing classically, and to act. I was lucky enough to meet a voice teacher during my junior year of high school who pointed me towards opera and its wealth of intense music and storytelling. I fell in love, and knew it was the perfect fit for me.”
Tell us about the character you play in Faust.
“Marguerite is a very genuine, giving girl, inexperienced in the ways of love and courtship when she meets Faust. Having dealt with the deaths of her mother and her younger sister, and now left alone by her brother Valentin as he goes off to war, she’s very vulnerable. As much as she tries to resist, not wanting her heart to be broken, she can’t help but want to be loved by Faust, and to give him her love in return. The opera is really about her tragedy. While Faust is a key-component in the Mephistopheles’ plan, it’s the innocent, naive Marguerite that he really wants to ruin. Some people joke that Gounod’s opera should actually be called Marguerite!”
Do you have any advice for aspiring singers?
“Don’t get discouraged, and please, love what you’re doing! It is so easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of work that goes into a singing career, and to throw in the towel when you encounter rejection or disappointment. Learning to deal with an outcome you hadn’t hoped for (notice that I didn’t use the word “failure”) is equally important as your greatest successes. Don’t fixate on where you think you ought to be. Work with what you have today, and work on the next right move. And then the next right move. There are many paths to the top of the mountain. Learn to love your practice time, and encourage yourself along the way.”
If you could play any role (regardless or voice part, gender, etc.), what role would it be?
“I so wish I could be a bass-baritone and play all the villain roles, including Mephistopheles, Nick Shadow, Blitch, Sweeney Todd, Don Giovanni or the Commendatore, Scarpia…that would be truly awesome!”
Do you have any pre-show rituals/are you superstitious when it comes to the theatre?
“Prior to a performance, I like to wish all my fellow cast-mates a fun performance, and just enjoy the whole experience. Warming up, getting into the wig & makeup chair, putting on the costume. It’s thrilling. But my favorite moment before a performance is when the orchestra tunes. That’s what really gets my adrenaline pumping for a show. There’s something invigorating and simultaneously calming about hearing those sounds. The tuning, the calming down, the applause for the maestro stepping to the podium, and then the dead silence before that first note.”
What do you have coming up after Faust?
“After Faust, I’ll be singing with the Virginia Symphony as part of the Virginia Arts Festival, where I’ll play Juno in a staged production of The Tempest, with Sibelius’ music accompanying, as well as singing with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Then I’m off to San Francisco as a participant with the Merola Opera Program for the summer, where I’ll be singing the role of Anne Sexton in Conrad Susa’s Transformations. Three weeks after Merola finishes, I start as a Resident Artist with Pittsburgh Opera! Very excited for all of these new experiences.”
Why do you love opera?
“I am constantly amazed by the power of the human voice. The way we tell stories that move people so deeply, even when it’s in a foreign language. Using your voice to express yourself is one of the deepest, most basic human needs. Before we learn to speak, we scream, shout, laugh, and so much of that instinct is the source of singing! Singing speaks to our hearts. That’s the power of this art form.”
Other than opera, what are you listening to now? (What’s on your iPod?)
So when I’m not singing or listening to opera (which I do a lot), I’m often singing along with Disney music (yes, I’m a child at heart), Golden Era music theatre, film scores, and jazz, including covers by artist like Michael Bublé. I also enjoy some bluegrass like Alison Krauss & Union Station. Especially when driving long distances.
What do you do for fun/what hobby or interest do you enjoy outside of performing?
“I love to travel, experience local culture and food, and being from Florida, I love my beach time. I’m also a crafter. I planned my entire wedding, including making all the stationery, arranging the decor, and making the bridesmaids’ earrings. I have become a handyman as well, as my husband and I own a house from 1945 on family property in Chesapeake, Virginia. We are slowly renovating it ourselves. I’m a singer with a strange set of skills.”