From Helani to Depardieu, all at Baalbeck Festival

BEIRUT: The program for the Baalbeck International Festival 2014 was announced Thursday during a news conference at the Baalbek acropolis.

Tensions in the Bekaa Valley made Baalbeck organizers decide to stage last year’s event in La Magnanerie, a former silk-making facility in Saad al-Boushrieh, Jdeideh. Evidently things have improved, as the 2014 edition will return to its traditional home in the Bacchus Temple.

As festival committee chairwoman Nayla de Freij explained at the conference, the security situation has changed for the better. Freij explained that everything would be done to reassure the public: A security plan has already proven to be effective, and there will be other security measures put in place on the roads leading to Baalbek’s main sites.

The festivities will kick off on July 30, when Bekaa Valley-born performer Assi El Helani transports his audience through a musical fantasia entitled “Assi ... El Helm.” Scheduled to be staged over three nights, the performance recounts tales from the vocalist’s musical journey, from his humble beginnings to the celebrity he enjoys today.

To make this production even more memorable, Helani has composed a tune especially for the town of Baalbek, accompanied by an orchestra and dancers.

Following Helani’s gigs, on Aug. 3 is a concert by Angela Gheorghiu. The Romanian soprano got her break in an adaptation of Verdi’s opera “La Traviata,” and since then has come to be grouped among the elite of opera virtuosi. People who don’t know the diversity of the soprano’s talent will be able to discover her unique tessitura, blending force with tenderness.

Tunisian singer-songwriter Dhafer Youssef will return to Lebanon with his “Incantations” show, featuring oud solos and vocal-driven tunes from his 2013 CD “Bird Requiems,” which has so far taken him to the U.S., France and Norway.

Youssef’s music has been characterized as the perfect harmony of jazz and Middle Eastern rhythms. This show will see him accompanied for the very first time by Turkish clarinetist Husnu Senlendirici.

Fans of circus and dance acts may be pleased to learn that Canadian troupe “Les 7 Doigts de la Main” will be in Baalbek for a one night affair on Aug. 16. “Doigts” has performed at the opening ceremonies of the three separate Olympic Games – Turin, Vancouver and Sochi, on the strength of outstanding choreography, with a fine eye for detail. Critics suggest “Sequence 8,” their latest project, will “seduce young and old alike.”

Famed stage and screen actor Gerard Depardieu has been in the news lately, both for his turn in Abel Ferrara’s “Welcome to New York,” a portrayal of certain moments in the life of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Khan, and the drama that saw the actor relocate to Moscow and become a Russian citizen.

Depardieu will close the Baalbeck festival on Aug. 31, co-starring with French actress Fanny Ardantin “La Musica Deuxieme,” an adaptation of a prose work by Margueurite Dumas, which is being staged to celebrate the centenary of the author’s birth.

The Baalbeck International Festival will be held at Bacchus Temple July 30-Aug. 31. For more information, please visit

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 30, 2014, on page 16.




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