The superbly talented French soprano Natalie Dessay -- hailed as resoundingly for her cut-to-the-bone theatrical acumen as for her beautiful voice -- is in town singing the role of Antonia in San Francisco Opera's production of Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann." (It opened Wednesday night at War Memorial and runs through July 6; see Richard Scheinin's review online today and in print Friday.)
But as she is carrying forth as the ailing songstress who bewitches the poet Hoffmann, she has another agenda to carry out while she's in the Bay Area. Dessay, who first thrilled audiences here with her stunning debut in the title role in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" in 2008, has also had great success, in several productions, as Violetta, the tragic heroine in Verdi's "La Traviata." One of the most warmly received has been the 2011 production with the starkly minimalist set at Aix-en-Provence in France directed by Jean-Francois Sivadier. The intensive rehearsals for that particular opera are the focus of "Becoming Traviata," a two-hour documentary by French filmmaker Philippe Beziat that will open a run at the Opera Plaza Cinemas in San Francisco and the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley on June 14.
Dessay, who was at first rattled and unnerved by the in-your-face presence of the film crew (which shot more than 100 hours of footage of her interactions with Sivadier, her co-star tenor Charles Castronovo and others in the cast), has since acknowledged that she appreciates and admires the resulting film, which became an official selection of the 50th New York Film Festival in 2012. And she has agreed twice to be present at screenings of the movie in San Francisco for a question-and-answer session with the audience. She will appear after the 7 p.m. show at Opera Plaza on June 15 and the 2 p.m. matinee at the same theater on June 16. Advance tickets are available online at www.landmarktheatres.com.
Be forewarned that the documentary focuses exclusively on the intimate and intricate process of shaping the opera, and there is no great "payoff" with scenes from the actual production. If you're likely to be frustrated by that, ARTE, the French-German television network for culture and the arts, has a solution for you. For the next six days, they will have a video of the full two-hour plus "La Traviata" from Aix-en-Provence online for free viewing. Go to http://liveweb.arte.tv, click on "Classique" and scroll down to locate the opera, sung in the original Italian with the titles translated in French. The documentary itself is in French, Italian and English, with all French-Italian content subtitled in English.
CALLING ALL GUITAR PLAYERS: If the concept of 100 guitarists all lined up to play the same piece of music together makes you vibrate with anticipation, take heed of a far-in-advance preview event taking place Friday night in San Francisco. The new music champion outfit Other Minds has teamed up with The Lab to present a performance of the mesmerizingly minimalist "Guitar Trio (G3)," the 1977 work by experimental composer Rhys Chatham. The composer and several Bay Area fellow guitarists, a bass player and a drummer will perform it at 8 p.m. at 2948 16th St., as a sort of a tickler for "A Secret Rose," a monumental new work by Chatham that is set for a world-premiere performance -- by the aforementioned five-score guitarists -- at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond on Nov. 17. Attendees at Friday night's event who play guitar will also be able to find out how they can get in on the massive project. Admission, on a sliding scale, is $7-$15; find more information at www.otherminds.org.
BISS EQUALS BLISS: The San Francisco Symphony, winding toward the end of the classical concert season, seems to have saved up much of the best for last. That of course includes both the 100th anniversary "Rite of Spring" Igor Stravinsky extravaganzas June 19-22 and the all-but-sold-out "West Side Story" concert performances (the first ever, anywhere) June 27-July 2. But these wonderful events can't dim the luster, for me, anyway, of the phenomenal pianist Jonathan Biss' upcoming visit to Davies Hall, where he will be playing the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor with the orchestra under the baton of guest conductor Roberto Abbado. Also on the program are Schumann's Overture to "Genoveva," the U.S. premiere of Ivan Fedele's "Scena" and Schubert's Symphony No. 3 in D major. Tickets, $15-$150, are at 415-864-6000 or www.sfsymphony.org.
Contact Sue Gilmore at firstname.lastname@example.org.