The SF Opera returned last week with a fantastic production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann. The opera's summer season a short coda to the meat-and-potatoes of the Fall, but it's going to be a treat. There will be a world premiere that tells the story of Jesus (of Nazareth, not Shuttleworth, even though he's back in the Finals) and Mary Magdalene. We'll have more to say on this; we hope it gets condemned by the Pope, or even Fox news, to stir up some publicity and excitement. There's going to be a never-fails-to-please Così Fan Tutte. Mozart never let us down. And Offenbach's les Contes d'Hoffmann -in a funky production by Laurent Pelly- will be your the next-to-last chance to hear French soprano Natalie Dessay before she takes a break from singing opera on stage, and from what we heard last night, she is leaving on a high note.

Natalie has had an extraordinary career, and we pray her opera sabbatical is only temporary. She has sung with extraordinary intensity leading roles on the biggest stages. She sang Cleopatra at the Met a couple months ago, and a stellar Lucia here during her last visit in 2008 that's so fresh in our memory it feels like yesterday. She also participated in a wonderful documentary, Becoming Traviata, a behind the scene look at the rehearsal process for the Aix-en-Provence production of La Traviata directed by Jean-François Sivadier. The documentary makes no commentary: you are just a fly on the wall during rehearsals, and you witness how the director and singers (and to a lesser extent, the conductor, Louis Langrée) give birth to staging and acting ideas, try them out and shape them. You see the multiple threads of work, the staging, the sets, the orchestra, advancing in parallel. But mostly you see Natalie's work in embodying the character, nudged and advised by Sivadier. The documentary will open on June 14th at the Landmark Opera Plaza, Landmark Shattuk and Rafael Film Center. We loved it, do not miss it. To discuss this and Antonia, her role in Hoffman, we had a phone chat with Natalie last week.