Backstage at San Francisco Opera > May 2012 > All in the Family
All in the Family
When we found out that San Francico Opera Chorus Member Elisabeth Rom's brother is Set Designer Erhard Rom for Nixon in China, we immediately asked her to write a blog post. So glad we did! Elisabeth shares how she became a chorus member at SF Opera (with a little help from her brother) and how with their busy schedules they still make time for family.

The circumstances that led to my auditioning for the San Francisco Opera Chorus are still very clear in my memory. It was 1993 and at the time, I was living in New York City. I had stopped over to visit my brother, who also lived in New York City in an apartment just across town. Having recently completed his MFA at NYU, he was now working freelance as an assistant designer. As was typical in those days, I arrived to find him busily working on a model stage set. While I waited for him to finish up, he tossed me a copy of the newsletter called Art Search and said, “Here, you’ve always wanted to live in San Francisco.   Why don’t you try out for this?” I took a look at the posting which read “Auditions for San Francisco Opera Chorus”. Thinking it might be a long-shot, I nevertheless, took his advice and was hired. Almost 20 years later, here I am in San Francisco, performing night after night in this great opera house and sharing the stage with some of the most talented artists of the opera world today.           
In the meantime, my brother Erhard, (who now lives just across the Hudson River, with his wife and son, in the charming little town of Maplewood, NJ), has  built a fine career as a set designer, designing  for theatre and opera throughout the United States and Canada.  I have on occasion been able to fly out to attend one of his productions. However, between my work schedule and the demands of caring for my own family here in the Bay Area, it is rarely possible to get away to do so.  [Above: Nixon in China Set Designer Erhard Rom]  

One of those rare occasions, however, occurred fairly recently.  In March of 2010, I was very fortunate to be able to attend the premiere of Erhard’s production of Nixon in China in Vancouver, B.C. The production was received with great acclaim and of course, I was as always, unashamedly proud! Little did I know that I would one day find myself performing in this same production here in San Francisco. In retrospect, had I known this, perhaps I would have been paying closer attention to and taking note of  the specific chorus actions onstage! Instead I sat back and as an audience member, found myself captivated by the piece. 

This summer is going to be a very special one for Erhard and myself. Not only will this production of Nixon in China mark Erhard's debut with San Francisco Opera, but for the first time, I will be singing onstage in a production designed by my brother! On a personal level, I look forward to being able to spend some family time together. As one might imagine, with busy schedules and living long distances apart, family visits tend to be few and far between. My daughters are very excited that they will get to visit with their uncle as well as their aunt and cousin during his stay here. In addition to being a talented designer, many people do not realize Erhard is also quite a competent musician.  As has become a tradition when we get together, I am hoping perhaps during a visit to our home, I can coerce Erhard into reading through a few piano duets or accompanying me in a few art songs. [Above: Erhard Rom as a boy tinkering with a set model]

People often wonder how two siblings ended up in similar fields. For example, what did our parents do? On our mom’s side there were many artistic family members, including a great aunt who was a pianist. Our father is enormously enthusiastic about the arts. Music, in particular, has always been his greatest passion.   We grew up in Seattle, in a household in which literature, art and music were always present and available.  At an early age, we began regularly attending the English language productions at Seattle Opera. I believe one cannot underestimate the power of witnessing an opera live in the theatre. It can make a huge impression, particularly on a child. It certainly did for us and indeed already has for my own children. Our father always told us that the most important thing to consider in choosing a career path is to do something you love. I think we will both be thinking about that on the opening night of Nixon in China!
Posted: 5/21/2012 11:00:08 AM by Elisabeth Rom
Filed under: 2011-12Season, chorus, design, NixonInChina


Backstage at San Francisco Opera is a fascinating, fast-moving, mysterious and sacred space for the Company’s singers, musicians, dancers, technicians and production crews. Musical and staging rehearsals are on-going, scenery is loaded in and taken out, lighting cues are set, costumes and wigs are moved around and everything is made ready to receive the audience. From the principal singers, chorus and orchestra musicians to the creative teams for each opera, in addition to the many talented folks who don’t take a bow on stage, this blog offers unique insight, both thought-provoking and light-hearted, into the life backstage at San Francisco Opera.


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