Daphne Alderson laughs at being asked where she is from.
"I'm from Flint, Michigan," she says. "Can't you hear it in my voice?"
Actually, it's hard to detect her Flint inflection. But there's no doubt that when you hear Ms. Alderson's voice, you are hearing something special.
And you'll be able to hear this operatically trained cabaret singer tonight in a special venue as she performs at Mansions on Fifth in Shadyside.
It's part of the hotel's Grand Hall Concert Series, a once-a-month lineup intended to showcase local or locally connected artists in the splendor of the restored Elizabethan Revivalist-style McCook mansion at 5105 Fifth Ave.
Ms. Alderson, who studied music at Duquesne University, has called Pittsburgh home for the past 17 years. But her formative years, she said, were the ones she spent in Hoboken, N.J., after she graduated.
"I was singing opera in New York," she said. "And I took this detour."
At the suggestion of her voice teacher -- the late, great Dodi Protero -- she went to New York's Cafe Carlyle to hear Barbara Cook sing Sondheim.
"After that night, I guess you could say I had one of those rare moments of clarity in my life, that that was what I was supposed to be doing," Ms. Alderson said. "Since then, I've put most of my energy into growing as a cabaret singer and working on the art form and fighting to preserve it. Because it's a difficult art form to keep alive right now."
Ms. Alderson describes herself as a lyric contralto, meaning she has "an earthy voice."
"So cabaret singing is not such a stretch for me because my voice lies low," she said. "I can sound like an old-time singer. And it's a blessing.
"Stylistically, it's different. The trick is not singing everything like it's operatic. You don't want to deliver a Sondheim song like you're singing something from 'La Boheme.' It's got to have an intimate quality."
Meanwhile, she was living in Hoboken, where she became part of the community of artists.
"Hoboken, to me, is what Paris was to Gertrude Stein," she said. "It'll always be my home. As poor as I was, I really felt rich because I had found my people. Not just other opera singers, but all kinds of artists. It was a great period of discovery for me.
"[That time] did so much for me spiritually and opened me up artistically. And I realized that there was a big world out there that was bigger than just being an opera singer. Being around other artists gave me the courage to go out there and try this."
But she was meant to try it in Pittsburgh.
"I came back to get married," she said. "But I think that community of artists exists here in Pittsburgh, as well. I'm finding people that resonate in the same way."
Tonight's show is billed as "Return to Love Cafe," a nod to Ms. Alderson's first recording, "The Love Cafe." She will be performing some of her older material, with a few new things mixed in.
"Plus I'm introducing some Leonard Cohen songs," she said.
Oh, but before we finish, we should make it clear that Ms. Alderson hasn't totally left the world of opera.
"It's ironic," she said, "because I'm trained as an opera singer, but now I'm more of a concert cabaret artist. But two years ago I came back to opera. Time was on my side. Because of my voice type and the fact that I'm not in my 20s anymore, frankly, I got this great opportunity to be in 'Dialogues of the Carmelites' with Pittsburgh Opera. And that led to other opportunities."
Next month, for example, she will be appearing in "The Little Sweep" with the Microscopic Opera Company at CAPA Theater, Downtown.
"Thank God," she said. "It's sweet to be coming to me at this point, because I think I have a deeper appreciation for it after pounding the pavement for years and years."
Ms. Alderson's husband, John Marcinizyn, joins her tonight on guitar, along with pianist Douglas Levine, who serves as music director. Their evening at Mansions on Fifth begins at 6:30 p.m. with small plates, followed by dessert, all for $30 per person. But you should call 412-381-5105 in advance.
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This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/