Raising Her Voice
Local opera singer has built multifaceted creative career
By Jessica Laskey
All the world really is a stage for Carrie Hennessey. Though you could describe Hennessey as “an opera singer,” that wouldn’t do justice to the creative mind and talent she brings to productions of all kinds—opera, musical theater, cabaret, chamber music, master classes, lectures, song cycles and more.
“I’m always about being open to whatever the inspiration is,” the Natomas resident says. “When the whim or spark of an idea comes to me, I don’t question it—I roll with it.”
This flexibility has served Hennessey well during a career that has spanned decades, states and countries. As a child growing up in Minneapolis, Hennessey was “the loud singer” early on, thanks in part to her mother’s work as a pianist for choir groups. Hennessey’s father died when she was quite young and she consequently saw the role music played in her mother’s life as “a source of comfort, motivation, community and communication.”
After a mentor in high school suggested Hennessey try opera, she took six months of lessons and then decided to try out for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, a competition for promising young opera singers—and placed in regionals.
Heartened by her early success, she went on to study singing at the University of Minnesota Morris, a small liberal arts college with an “amazing music faculty.” However, an emotional trauma she’d experienced began to wreak havoc on her voice—Hennessey had panic attacks for the first time in her life and, at the next Met Opera competition, she cracked a note onstage and walked away from performing…for 12 years.
“I thought, if this is what this (job) is—worrying and interpreting every interaction and audition—it’s not the career I want,” Hennessey says.
Luckily for audiences everywhere, Hennessey eventually found her way back to singing when she joined the celebrated Theatre de la Jeune Lune, a Minneapolis-based company known for its physical performance style combining clowning, mime, dance and opera. The troupe’s multifaceted philosophy fit Hennessey to a tee, so she toured with them for two years.
When her husband’s telecom job relocated the family—they have two children, now 18 and 20—to Sacramento in 2008, Hennessey wasted no time diving into the local performance scene. She’s sung with the Sacramento Opera, Sacramento Ballet (where she also collaborated on a world premiere ballet with choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie), Sacramento Children’s Chorus and Chamber Music Society of Sacramento, among others. But she’s also maintained her national and global connections, performing in New York City, Colorado, Texas, Hungary, Czech Republic, Belgium and Germany, to name just a few.
In addition, Hennessey has found some of her most beloved collaborators in Sacramento. She works regularly with pianist Jennifer Reason, with whom she’s formed two performance groups: adventurous musical collective Rogue Music Project and mashup band The Reassemblers of Whimsy. The duo is also working on a recital for next spring of all-female composers titled “And Yet She Persisted: Stories and Music of Women in Classical Music.”
“I always like to explore the gray areas (of female characters),” Hennessey says. “I’m not interested in the traditional way. ‘That’s how it’s always been done’ is a killer phrase. I’d much rather make people think and feel something. I want to know what’s underneath—the gray is where all the information lives.”
Though performance plans have been put on hold due to the pandemic, Hennessey is still teaching private vocal lessons over Zoom—preparing the next generation of genre-busting artists to take on the world—and is busy planning her return to the many kinds of stages she calls home.
For more information, visit carriehennessey.com.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.