Sarah Jennings: Sharing a lifelong passion for opera

NAC CEO Christopher Deacon stands in a crowd with Sarah Jennings.
Sarah Jennings with NAC President and CEO Christopher Deacon. © Andrew Balfour Photography
Two opera singers rehearse in front of members of the NAC Orchestra.
Miriam Khalil and Elliot Madore, Don Giovanni with the NAC Orchestra © Curtis Perry
NAC Orchestra rehearsing with two opera singers on the Southam Hall stage.
Don Giovanni, Southam Hall © Curtis Perry

Sarah Jennings, political and cultural journalist and author of the book Art and Politics: The History of the National Arts Centre is a longtime friend and champion of the NAC. Her most recent gift to the NAC Foundation supports the NAC Orchestra’s in-concert performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, a collaboration with Banff Centre's professional development program Opera in the 21st Century.

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When did your passion for opera begin?

As a small child my mother took me to the former Eaton College Theatre in Toronto to see a production by the early version of the Canadian Opera Company. I remember watching the rehearsals and being awestruck by the art form. I have loved the opera ever since.

What inspired you to make your generous donation toward the NAC Orchestra performances of Don Giovanni?

Supporting the art form is important to me. I was very involved with the former Opera Lyra here in Ottawa as Vice-Chair, and my family has a history of championing opera.

This production of Don Giovanni is part of the Opera in the 21st Century program at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, which is a collaborative program for emerging opera professionals. I very much appreciate this partnership between the NAC and the Banff Centre, and I am a huge believer in collective energy.

What is your favourite part of the operatic experience?

The opera is magical. When I was teaching journalism at Carleton University, I would invite artists to teach my students about various art forms. Once, an opera singer came to class. At first, my students were distracted. But when he began to sing, struck a note, and held it for what seemed like minutes, they all sat upright in awe.

An opera singer’s instrument is inside his body, and it’s amazing to witness the extraordinary feats of the voice.

What is your advice to performing arts lovers who might be “on the fence” about attending the opera?

Go to the opera! Don Giovanni is one of the more heavy-duty operas, and it is always helpful to go with someone who knows the art form. But, as with scotch, or anything else that is an acquired taste, it is important to experience for yourself and be patient as you acquire the taste.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

From the outset, the NAC was based on a passion for opera. Southam Hall was designed for opera and the orchestra pit was modelled precisely after the pit in the Vienna State Opera House. We are so fortunate in Ottawa to have had such good opera and some of opera’s greatest artists perform here. Well-done, full-scale opera is one of life’s great experiences.

The NAC Foundation sincerely thanks Sarah Jennings for her generous support of the NAC’s June 15 and June 17 performances of  Don Giovanni.

Join more than 6,500 champions of performance, creation and learning by supporting Canadian artists, educators and students through the NAC Foundation.

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