Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Carrie Hennessey in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On November 5, 2022, I will be conducting the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in a wonderful program featuring a West Coast première by Salina Fisher (from New Zealand), Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs with the superb soprano Carrie Hennessey, and Prokofiev's extraordinary Symphony No. 5. Below is a conversation I had with Carrie about our upcoming performance.

Christian Baldini: Dear Carrie, as always it is a pleasure to collaborate with you. Please tell me, what is your personal history with this marvelous work by Richard Strauss, and what do these beautiful songs mean to you personally?

Carrie Hennessey: Well as a young singer, with an old soul, growing into the big lyric voice, these were always the “one day I hope to sing these!”. I studied every version I could get my ears on.  I never knew if I’d have a chance to sing them with an orchestra so I have performed them many times in concert with piano. Now I am blessed to sing these a second time with an orchestra with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra! The first time was with conductor Danny Stewart. We performed in a venue in the redwoods, so the final movement was overwhelming. Watching the sunset while singing “Im Abendrot” is a treasured memory. It was difficult to not cry!

CB: Could you share with people what each of these four songs is about? What is your take on them?

CH: These songs weren’t originally grouped together as a set until later. The first Song “Frühling” or Spring elicits the trembling feeling of new, intoxicating smells and sights. In nature. In Life. This leads to “September”, summer shuddering and smiling at his dying dream of a garden. The golden leaves taking over and leading  into “Beim Schlafengehen”, or Going to Sleep. A poem of a soul tired, wearied and wishing for sleep, a soul free to live and fly freely into the magic night. Strauss first set the Eichendorff poem “Im Abendrot”, At Sunset, about a couple at the end of their journey together, seeing the sunset and asking “is this death?”, which became the last in the group. This for me, yes, can represent the literal last sunset but more viscerally for me is the sunset of a life gone by, the past leaving and walking through a metamorphosis. I see the people who have walked through it with me until this point, what I need to leave behind to bloom further and what lies on the other side of the incredible shift and change. These last two years have been filled with personal and collective transformation. These songs to me deeply represent that new discovery of who I am and what I have to offer the world, honoring the path I’ve taken thus far as well as letting go of what I don’t need in order to truly step into what lies ahead. 

CB: Which of the four songs is your favorite, if any, and why?

CH: I think I have to say Beim Schlafengehen, because it was the first I ever sang. The composer that helped bring me back to singing after 12 years away played this in a church service. We had exchanged stories of our love for Strauss and he slipped it into the prelude by surprise. I teared up, remembering what it felt like to truly sing with that kind of freedom. To soar freely as the text and music inspires. We performed it at a New Year’s eve service. A time to reflect on the past and look forward to shift and change. I was ever changed. 

CB: What would you recommend to someone who is not familiar with these songs, or with Richard Strauss? What should they listen for?

CH: I think the thing that stands out to me most is the general feeling of longing. Some specific themes to listen for are the “flying theme” violin solo in “Beim Schlafengehen” that is then repeated in the voice with the words “the soul wishes to soar freely” and I LOVE how Strauss truly captures the sunset. The grand gesture at the end of “Im Abendrot” when the sunset has the deepest, fiery orange blazing through the pink sky, followed by the last birds singing their song,  in the flutes and piccolos, before sleep. Stunning writing!

CB: Thank you Carrie, and as always, I know our audience will be in for a treat!

CH: I am thrilled to be back making such beautiful music with you and the Camellia Symphony Orchestra!

Carrie Hennessey (courtesy photo)

Carrie Hennessey is a wayfinder through the deep, spiritual and technical discoveries of the voice.

Early success in the Metropolitan Opera Auditions led to high expectations, but singing after trauma in her early 20s dismantled the ease in her voice and presence. A top artistic mentor once reviewed, ‘This is not the same singer I heard 2 years ago. Go back home’, and a famous singer/coach exclaimed, ‘If you’d just sing like Renata Tebaldi…’ Hennessey left, losing her identity and voice.

Ms. Hennessey has since found her true voice and created a wildly unique and energized career path in theater, opera, symphony work, recital, and education, wearing with pride the hats of trauma-informed teacher and facilitator, producer, singer, actor, innovator and writer.

She is currently most known for her soaring voice and richly nuanced characters onstage, and has sung all over the world. Notable highlights include on the heels of Covid debuting as Kát’á in Kát’á Kabanová. Ms. Hennessey “in a vivid star turn in the title role…brought a wondrous blend of silvery tone and sinuous phrasing to her assignment…Hennessey’s performance touched perfectly on Katya’s anxiety, joys and uncertainty, all through a surge of Puccinian lyricism.”- Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

On a vulnerable and delusional ride through the mind of Tennessee Williams and Blanche Du Bois in Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Carrie “gave us a Blanche that let us burrow into her character’s soul, even into the darkest crevices…Hennessey, using a one-two punch of music and drama, made it resonate in a way that equaled the finest stage performances of the part I’ve seen.” (Fresno Bee). Carrie captivated audiences of both the Slow Food Movement and opera alike at Sacramento’s own, Magpie Cafe as Estelle in an immersive production of The Stronger, based on the intense Strindberg play.She channeled the physical comedy of Carol Burnett and fearless vocalism and sense of humor of Beverly Sills in the world premiere ballet by Darrell Grand Moultrie “On the Rocks, Please!”, bringing the Sacramento Ballet house to surprised belly laughter and then to its feet. Ms. Hennessey has also debuted with Houston Symphony, St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Budapest, Reduta Hall in Bratislava, Rudolfinum Hall in Prague, the International Mahler Festival, the Concertgebouw in Bruges, Ypres, Belgium and at the Liederhalle in Stuttgart.

Carrie lights a fire in those around her teaching music education through lectures, workshops, Master Classes, and is joyfully dedicated to guiding people to find their true authentic voice in the world. Currently, Carrie is developing her one woman show about her life in singing, quitting for 12 years post trauma and creating from nothing a versatile and vibrant career steeped in authenticity. Want to be a part of this creative adventure? Subscribe to her email list and blog at and follow on social media @carriehennessey for updates!