Elizabeth DeShong is an American born mezzo-soprano with a voice described by The Guardian as “A contralto opulence with blazing top notes and some of the most staggering coloratura you will ever hear.” From my own personal experience hearing her as Hermia in The Enchanted Island at the Metropolitan Opera, this praise is utterly true and wholly deserving. While most of her career has been spent on the operatic stage, Ms. DeShong returns to D.C. to perform an art song recital of 20th century repertoire presented by Vocal Arts DC.
In what ways does performing an art song recital challenge you differently as a singer than performing in an opera?
In a recital setting, the audience’s lens is pointed very specifically at you. You are given the rare opportunity to speak directly to your audience without distraction and to choose your own repertoire. In operatic settings you have many people to please, and while you certainly bring your own musicality and dramatic choices into your performance, you have to be much more flexible to the input of others. Recitals are intimate and raw and you are putting your own choices and artistry on display. This is both a wonderful gift and a lesson in vulnerability.
Tell me about the collaboration process between you and your pianist Mark Markham. Have you worked together before? How do you work on interpretation together with limited rehearsal time?
This is the first time Mark and I have worked together. That said, Mark brings nearly 40 years of recital experience to our collaboration. Mark listens and responds to every breath, dynamic shift, tempo change, etc. that I take. Because of his extreme musical sensitivity, I am free to live and breathe and create in a very natural and free way.
What inspired your selections for Friday’s Vocal Arts recital? Which set or specific song are you most excited about sharing and why?
I have loved Schoenberg’s Op. 2 “Four Songs” for a very long time and have been eager to put them on a program. The Pizzetti songs are also favorites. It occurred to me that a recital of all 20th century music could be an interesting choice. I asked myself what I would want to hear in a recital setting. What would be memorable? What haven’t audiences experienced before? Could I possibly introduce people to something new? Could I use my ‘bel canto’ sensibilities and experience to full effect in recital of contemporary music? In addition, I knew I wanted songs that told very relatable, if heightened, human stories. Throughout the evening, we get to explore the joys and sorrows of caring for a child, question our faith, witness the dysfunction of troubled marriages, experience the pain of someone who has been in prison and then released, sigh at the beauty of new love, and laugh at silly stories from our childhood. My hope is that we will all walk away from the recital with recovered memories from our past and a new memory of a shared experience.
Vocal Arts DC presents mezzo-soprano, Elizabeth DeShong and pianist Mark Markham in recital this Friday, September 28th at 7:30 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. The program is to include selections from 20th century song repertoire by Reynaldo Hahn, Benjamin Britten, Ildebrando Pizzetti, Arnold Schoenberg, and Jake Heggie. For tickets or more information, click here.