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Around the World with opera singer Elizabeth DeShong

March 18, 2012
By BRIAN BUSH (bbush@sungazette.com) , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

Born and raised in northcentral Pennsylvania, opera singer Elizabeth DeShong has since gone far - all over the world, to be exact. DeShong, a mezzo-soprano, has been praised in North America and Europe for her "well-cultivated" and "big, bright and pleasing" voice. She has performed with The Metropolitan Opera, English National Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera and at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in England.

DeShong was born in Williamsport and lived in Liberty until the age of 4, when her family moved to Port Trevorton. She completed her K-12 education in the Selinsgrove Area School District and went on to graduate from the Oberlin Conservatory in 2002. DeShong received a master's degree from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, after which she was accepted into the young artist program at the Lyric Opera of Chicago's Ryan Opera Center.

DeShong's first professional engagement was in the role of "Hansel" in Humperdinck's "Hansel und Gretel" at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera.

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Opera singer Elizabeth DeShong was born in Williamsport and has performed with The Metropolitan Opera, English National Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera and at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in England.

"I consider myself exceptionally fortunate to have had this opera and this company begin my career," DeShong said. "Hansel at Glyndebourne was my first opportunity to make my mark on a fresh audience and for a company that didn't have any notions about who I am, other than that I am a capable, young singing actress. For the first time, I was able to freely give all of myself to a role and to the music."

In January 2010, DeShong appeared in The Metropolitan Opera's production of "The Enchanted Island." DeShong played the role of Hermia, one of the shipwrecked lovers stranded on the sorcerer Prospero's island. Combining the stories and characters of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Tempest," "The Enchanted Island" was an adaptation that yielded an entirely new opera. For DeShong, the production's novelty was an alluring prospect.

"It was an absolute joy to be a part of 'The Enchanted Island,' " DeShong said. "There is something tremendously thrilling about being involved in something so new. Our creative team also gave us such a dynamic world in which to play. I say 'play' because it never felt like work! I mean, who can complain about sharing the stage with Placido Domingo?"

The opera's second act opens with an aria sung by DeShong's character, Hermia. "The biggest challenge and, frankly, the biggest thrill in taking on the role of Hermia was the great responsibility of opening the second act with my aria," DeShong said. "My character had only a brief introduction in the first act, so I had to give the audience a very strong first impression. It's one of those moments when you have to either 'go big, or go home.' The competitor in me loves this type of challenge."

"The Enchanted Island" is DeShong's second Met appearance; her first came in 2010 in Verdi's "Aida."

DeShong said performing at the Met was a long-held dream.

"It's an honor to perform at the Metropolitan Opera," she said. "To join such an esteemed roster of performers in a theater so steeped in operatic history can't be underestimated in its importance to me."

In the case of "The Enchanted Island," it wasn't only the Met audience who was watching DeShong's performance. Because the show was broadcast live in HD in movie theaters across the world (including the Great Escape Theater at the Lycoming Mall), DeShong had an international audience of thousands to contend with. This would be a stage fright-inducing prospect for many, but DeShong said she had to ignore it in order to give her best performance.

"I am aware of how many people are watching live in HD, but I have to acknowledge it mental-ly and then forget about it. As soon as I step onstage, I force myself to trust in the work that I've been doing and just get on with performing for the audience in the theater. But after the show, when you start getting emails and tweets from Peru, Germany, England, Mexico and so on, it starts to hit you just how many people saw you perform - it's very exciting!"

Unlike many of the operas she's performed in, "The Enchanted Island" required DeShong and her fellow performers to sing in English rather than French, Italian, German or any of the other languages they normally encounter.

"My job can require me to sing in English, French, German, Italian, Czech, Russian and Spanish. While I don't have to be fluent in all of these languages, I do have to know the structure of the language and specifics of diction," DeShong said. "Obviously, the more knowledge you have of the language the better off you'll be and the easier your roles will be to prepare. Conservatory curriculum usually requires you to take French, German and Italian language and diction courses."

Opera critics universally praised DeShong's performance as Hermia. The Wall Street Journal called DeShong a "standout ... who brought a big, lustrous mezzo" to the role, while The Huffington Post said her aria was "spectacular."

Extensive travel is a necessary part of any opera career. It is not unusual for opera singers to spend more than half the year away from home. This is something DeShong knows all too well.

"Last year, I was home [in Akron, Ohio] for a total of two and a half months in two-week blocks," she said.

According to DeShong, however, this itinerant lifestyle is one of the biggest perks of her career.

"If I'm being honest, the opportunity for travel was a major factor in my pursuing this career," she said. "Growing up in a small town, I lived with the constant desire for more of what the world had to offer. Travel has always seemed like the greatest educational gift a person can give to himself or herself, and it is something I treasure."

DeShong's next engagement will take her to Tokyo, Japan, where she'll sing Suzuki in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" with conductor Seiji Ozawa. For a born globetrotter, DeShong certainly picked the right career.

For more information about DeShong, visit her website, www.elizabethdeshong.com. For a glimpse into the life of a traveling opera singer, visit DeShong's photo blog, www.asingerssuitcase.com.

 
 

 

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