Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong's resume is full of prestigious performances across the globe, including a month-long run in her first leading role at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
DeShong, who grew up in the small town Port Trevorton, Pa., and graduated from Selinsgrove Area High School in 1999, says she owes much of her training to teachers and instructors, including those from Selinsgrove Area High School and Susquehanna University. She is now gearing up for her final performance as Arsace in Rossini’s “Semiramide" on Saturday, the role she has been playing since Feb. 19.
The Opera Wire, an opera fan website, featured DeShong as its Artist of the Week on Feb. 19, calling her "one of today’s biggest rising stars singing at some of the world’s greatest stages and performing some of the toughest mezzo roles in the repertoire." She was also named the artist of the year in 2010 by The Washington National Opera, under the leadership of General Director Placido Domingo.
DeShong, who communicated with The Daily Item through email in order to preserve her voice for the performances, said she owes much of her success to the "strong public school music programs" from her adolescent and teen years.
"I really can’t overstate how very important the opportunities provided by the band and chorus programs in the Selinsgrove school district were to my early musical development," she said.
DeShong has been a leading lady at Vienna State Opera in Austria, the Royal Opera in London and the Bayerische Staatsoper in Germany. She debuted at the Met in 2008 in Puccini's "La Rondine" and has been performing in supporting roles.
"There is, perhaps, an added sense of achievement experienced by singing such a difficult and high profile role at the Met, but it isn’t a new experience for me," DeShong said. "Every time I step onstage, I aim to give the best performance I can, regardless of the house. I’ve sung 60-plus performances at the Met, so the house is familiar territory."
The role of Arsace is "one of the largest roles" she will ever sing, DeShong said.
DeShong moved with her parents — Clyde DeShong and Raneeta DeShong, who now live in Hershey — to Port Trevorton when she was age 3. As soon as she graduated high school, DeShong attended the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. She graduated early and earned her Master's Degree at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She was then accepted into the young artist program at the Lyric Opera of Chicago where her professional career began in 2008.
DeShong mentioned her influences and teachers while growing up in Selinsgrove: Vic Carr, her first piano teacher; Galen Deibler, another piano teacher who taught at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove; Kathy Bartol and Ed Smith, chorus and band instructors at the Selinsgrove Area High School; Kathleen Osborn, a voice teacher. She also noted that her Oberlin voice teacher, Daune Mahy, is an "ongoing inspiration."
Smith, the current instrumental music director at Selinsgrove, and Bartol, who retired as the high school chorus director in 2016, said DeShong is one of a kind.
"Elizabeth was one of the best students to come through here," said Smith. "She was way ahead of her time as far as talent goes. The first time she opened her mouth in front of me, it sounded like a professional. Even as a freshman."
Bartol, who gave DeShong her first private voice lessons, said she has only seen a handful of students in her 30-plus-year career who match DeShong's abilities and work ethic.
"A lot of students have beautiful voices, but she chose to work it and develop hers," Bartol said. "Her voice developed into a mature sound by the time she reached high school. She stood out."
DeShong is an example of someone who took their instruction seriously, said Bartol. She often told her students about DeShong to inspire and push them in their own work.
DeShong said her home is based in Akron, Ohio, but she only spends five to 10 weeks there per year. She is married to her college sweetheart, Ryan Albrecht. They have two cats.
Immediately following her final performance as ‘Arsace’ at the Met, she plans to fly to Chicago to perform a world premiere piece with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Riccardo Muti. She will then perform as Suzuki in Madama Butterfly at Glyndebourne in the United Kingdom.
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