Articles | Beiteddine 2000 | Fairuz in Concert | Specials | Contents
Tributes | Files | Interactive | Articles | Lists



  Arts and Entertainment > Lebanon > Summer Festivals >

July 31, 2000

The Year of the Divas

You’ve heard of the three tenors. Well, Beiteddine 2000 is the year of the three divas.

Kiri Te Kanawa opened the festival, and Jessye Norman and Fairouz are to follow. Given the famously temperamental reputation of divas, it strange then that festival president Nora Jumblatt reports no problems with any of the three.

"It’s been lovely dealing with Kiri Te Kanawa and Jessye Norman," says Mrs Jumblatt. "Fairouz has been beautiful - she came for Montserrat Caballe in 1997, looked round and said, ‘Heida Beiteddine’ [so this is Beiteddine]."

Believe that if you will. It’s not what divas are known for. Elizabeth Schwarzkopf chose all her own records when she went on the BBC's Desert Island Discs. Kathleen Battle threw all the clothes of a fellow soprano out of a dressing room she wanted. 

But diva means divine. Cue Kiri Te Kanawa. When, 29 years ago, she made her sensational Covent Garden as Countess Almaviva in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, William Mann, opera critic of The Times, rasped: "She looks and moves like a teenage goddess."

From singing at the Prince of Wales’ wedding - TV audience a mere 600 million - to drawing a billion TV watchers for a millennium broadcast from her native New Zealand, Te Kanawa has been adored worldwide. Her ‘crossover’ records - like Bernstein’s West Side Story, South Pacific and My Fair Lady - also helped, but she delighted the cognoscenti too with roles like Desdemona in Verdi’s Othello.

Personal difficulties over the past five years - divorce and a public splat with a long-lost brother - have done nothing to diminish Te Kanawa’s artistry, even if they have made her more withdrawn. "It's very difficult to be friendly with a gypsy and that’s what singers are," she told one interviewer.

Te Kanawa’s Beiteddine program showcased her versatility. The highlights were the final encore - an unaccompanied Maori song; Marietta’s Lute Song, the most popular number from Korngold’s 1920 opera Die tote Stadt; and Elizabeth’s Tu che le vanita from Verdi’s Don Carlos.

Speaking of which, Jessye Norman famously sued Classic CD for suggesting that when once trapped in a swing door and advised to go sideways, she said: "Honey, I ain’t got no sideways."

Make of that what you will. Norman has a voice that is, wrote one critic "double-cream from top to bottom" and projects "a mesmeric intensity of thought and feeling."

Norman has sung Mahler, Berlioz and Strauss but she brings to Beiteddine the music of fellow American Duke Ellington, whose 100th anniversary we marked last year. Ellington’s three sacred concerts, given towards the end of his career, were among the richest of his achievements. 

Norman has performed the repertoire - to critical acclaim - at the Barbican and Carnegie Hall. Twenty separate pieces are woven together with a choir, string quartet and jazz rhythm section. Look out for bassist Ron Carter - best known to jazz fans from the Miles Davis quintet of the 1960s - and saxophonist James Moody.

Fairouz at Beiteddine will be very different to Fairouz at Baalbek - a recital rather than a musical play, and sung live without playback. Direction will be by Ziad Rahbani, making this apparently the first public performance together of mother and son in Lebanon.

"As I understand it," says Mrs Jumblatt, "they’ll be some old songs and some new things." 

The festival’s poster features Fairouz from Mish Kayen Hayk T’Koun, which suggests we may hear some of the songs from that album. "There will also be some surprises," adds Mrs Jumblatt. 

For sure. With divas - like Tiri Te Kanawa, Jessye Norman and Fairouz - there will always be surprises. That’s just one reason why we love them so much.

Written by: Gareth Smyth


Copyright © 2000 Transmog s.a.l. All rights reserved