December 2, 2019
Five SF Opera Chorus members with decades of service retired last week, three taking bows during final curtain calls for the Tuesday performance of Hansel & Gretel.
The three are soprano Shelley Seitz (43 years with the Chorus), baritone Ken Johnson (34 years), and soprano Dvora Djoraev (24 years). The other two, not present, are soprano Virginia Pluth (31 years) and mezzo-soprano Claudia Siefer (44 years). A program insert described their careers with the company:
In 1971, as a student at UC Berkeley, Ms. Seitz joined a group of singers who were being added to the chorus at San Francisco Opera to sing “Wach Auf” in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It truly was a life changing experience.
She knew from that point that she wanted to be a part of San Francisco Opera and began as a supernumerary. She spent five years studying voice, and in 1977 she auditioned successfully to join the Regular Chorus. For Ms. Seitz, the experience of singing with others is a singular one. It can only be understood by doing. It only exists in performance, and choristers are part of its breath and life.
She feels grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful singers over these decades and has such respect for her dedicated coworkers and the work they do. Her work in the chorus has been the steady thread in her life for these 43 years. It is thus with some sadness that she retires. It is also with joy that she goes, knowing that the group that still carries the flame is so talented. She is honored to have been able to count herself among them.
Solo appearances from her tenure with the company include Countess Ceprano (Rigoletto), Charlotte (La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein), a Bridesmaid (in three productions of Figaro), and a Sadomasochist (Harvey Milk). Ms. Seitz would like to thank her children Sam and Eila Saarni who, despite her absence at evening PTA meetings, have become wonderful adults. “They are my true heart and happiness.”
He has always loved to sing, singing his first solo in church at the age of 5. He grew up in Canton, Kansas, a tiny burg of about 1,500. Encouraged by his high school music teachers, he enrolled at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas and earned a BA in Voice.
After graduation he moved to San Diego where he had family. For five years he sang in various venues around the city, during which he met his future wife of 35 years, Debbie. Unable to find work, they moved to Sacramento where Debbie had family. He worked as a painter for a semi-trailer company for the next five years. They married, and their first daughter, Stephanie, was born.
He still sang when he could, and during a promotional event for Sacramento Opera he heard someone talking about the San Francisco Opera Chorus. Coincidentally his father-in-law, Del, was in the chorus in the sixties, and with his help, Ken obtained an audition. After being told there were “no openings” he slunk back to painting but was elated when two weeks later he was hired. Since then they were blessed with daughter number two, Angela, and three grandkids with a fourth on the way.
San Francisco Opera has become his home and his coworkers like family. “It has been such a privilege to spend my career doing what I love with the best chorus in the world. With great fondness and quite a bit of sadness, Farewell!”
It was with both joy and sadness that Ms. Pluth bade farewell to the San Francisco Opera Chorus after 31 years with the company. The joy was establishing lifelong friendships; singing with the world’s finest, both visiting operatic stars and those within the company itself, mostly her chorus colleagues; learning under the tutelage of chorus maestro Ian Robertson, maestros Sir John Pritchard, Donald Runnicles, and Nicola Luisotti; performing with the extraordinary San Francisco Opera Orchestra; and allowing the years of these experiences mold the performer she had hoped to be. The sadness was leaving all of this for only her memory to hold.
Ms. Pluth wants to thank San Francisco Opera for entrusting her with several solo roles throughout the years, but most of all, the opportunity to be a part of the family for the past 31 years. It has been an honor.
She joined the Extra Chorus in 1993 and has been a Regular Chorus member since 1995. A graduate of the SF Conservatory of Music, she has performed many roles with the company, including Ortlinde (Die Walküre), a Shepherd Boy (Tosca), Maria (La Forza del Destino), an Artichoke Vendor (Louise), a Voice (Doktor Faust), a Madrigal Singer (Manon Lescaut), a Noble Orphan (Der Rosenkavalier), Georgette (La Rondine), the Second Alms Sister (Suor Angelica), and a Sadomasochist in the world premiere and recording of Stewart Wallace’s Harvey Milk.
She first joined the San Francisco Opera Chorus in 1975. A San Francisco native, Ms. Siefer has actively performed as an opera and concert soloist throughout the Bay Area. In 1980 she participated in the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program. San Francisco Opera soloist highlights include Slave (Salome), Assistant to Chairman Mao (Nixon in China), Maria (La Forza del Destino), Fourth Maidservant and The Overseer (Elektra), and a Woman (Katya Kabanova).
Ms. Siefer performed The Witch (Hansel and Gretel) and Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) with Marin Opera Company, and the title role of Madama Butterfly), Mimì (La Bohème), and The Countess (Le Nozze di Figaro) with SF Opera’s own Brown Bag Opera.
Her concert work includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer with Kent Nagano.