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French Version

Fairouz to grace Baalbeck festival

Lebanon's beloved diva will open international musical event's 'golden' jubilee

Will she or will she not? It's the moment everyone waits for all year, Lebanese living at home and abroad, anxiously anticipating the news of whether or not Fairouz will return to perform at one of the country's summer festivals.

The rest of the acts lined up are secondary. What loyal fans really want to know is whether or not they'll be able to hear their beloved diva singing her songs on her own home turf. So what's the verdict this year? She will.

Fairouz is opening the 50th anniversary season of the Baalbeck International Festival on July 13 with the first of a three-night run of "Sah al-Nom," a Rahbani Brothers musical staged under the artistic direction of Ziad Rahbani.

The past two summers have been barren for Fairouz fans in Lebanon. The singer hasn't performed in her home country since 2003, the last of four consecutive annual appearances at Beiteddine.

Historically, however, Fairouz is more intimately tied to Baalbeck, having made her very first official appearance there in 1957. It fits, then, to have her back for the festival's golden jubilee (itself something of an exercise in fuzzy math since the festival started in 1955 but didn't properly coin its name until 1956 - in other words, last summer was a bad time for birthday celebrations so Baalbeck postponed).

So what else does Baalbeck have to offer this year? The aging British rock outfit Deep Purple (most enduring for "Smoke on the Water") is footnoting its European tour with a one-night gig in Lebanon, followed by jazz singer Diane Schuur, who is performing with the Dizzie Gillespie All-Star Big Band, which performed at Baalbeck last year as well.

Then, during the first weekend in August, the Eifman Ballet Theater of St. Petersburg is presenting an homage to master choreographer George Balanchine and an adaptation of Mozart's Requiem.

Keeping in the classical vein, the festival continues with Gaetano Donizetti's opera "Lucia di Lammermoor," performed by soprano Inva Mula, tenor Rolando Villazon, the Symphony Orchestra of Budapest and the Opera of Nice Choir.

In the interest of sheer spectacle, the season winds down with the Caracalla Dance Theater's "Villager's Opera (Koullouna min Loubnan)," a world premier produced especially for Baalbeck.

One dramatic difference between this year's festival at Baalbeck and previous years is venue - gone is the distinction between the Temple of Jupiter and the more intimate, acoustically rich Temple of Bacchus. All the concerts are taking place in a new set-up laid out between the two temples, a move that allows for a nightly capacity of up to 4,500 spectators.

The festival is also taking time to reflect. To mark its first 50 years, the organizing committee commissioned Lebanese filmmaker Philippe Aractingi (of "Bosta" fame) to direct a 15-minute film on the festival's history so far, which was unveiled Thursday at a news conference.

Mixing archival photographs and footage from a wealth of sources (television stations, newspapers, private collections), Aractingi essentially tells Baalbeck's story. The film courses through heavyweight performances by the likes of Rudolf Nureyev, Umm Kalthoum, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Ella Fitzgerald, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Miles Davis, Alvin Ailey, Charles Mingus and more.

To the credit of the filmmaker, who has been working on this for a year with a small team of collaborators, the film pulls no punches in terms of historical circumstance. It sets the festival in context, using footage from the many violent conflicts (Lebanon's 1958 Civil War, the 1967 war and the 1975-90 Civil War) that periodically suspended the festival's operations. (It didn't recover from that last, long disruption until 1997.) In all likelihood, the film will be screened as a kind of prelude to each night's performance this summer.

Beirut 22-05-2006
Kaelen Wilson-Goldie
The Daily Star

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