British rock star Elton John kicked off the Beiteddine 2001 festival in Lebanon Sunday playing piano solo on a huge stage, watched by 5,000 delighted fans.
Wearing a sparkling sky blue suit and dark glasses, he played non-stop for two and a half hours in his first show in the Middle East, delivering a selection from his known repertoire of some 30 years.
His songs revived memories of the 70's for the young and not so young, who were also gifted by the visibly moved rock star with what he said was "a song I am playing for the first time in public."
His unaccompanied open-air show was staged in the outer court of the Beiteddine palace, built in the 19th century by the emir Bashir Shahabi II in the Shouf mountains to the south-east of Beirut.
Wild applause brought him back to the stage for a 10-minute encore, comprising three more songs, culminating with a reprise of the huge-seller "Candle in the Wind," which was dedicated to the late British Princess of Wales, Lady Diana, following her death in 1997.
Sir Elton had been ticketed for just one show but agreed to a second appearance Sunday, after his first performance was oversold.
The festival also features for the second year running world-famous Lebanese singer Fairouz on July 27, 28 and 31, with piano-backing from her son, musician-composer Ziad Rahbani.
Performances of Verdi's requiem and Berlioz' "Summer Nights" and "Symphonie Fantastique," as well as the French musical "Notre-Dame de Paris" are also scheduled.
Over recent years, a number of international stars including British singer Joe Cocker, opera singers Placido Domingo and Montserrat Caballe, and jazz chanteuse Dee Dee Bridgewater have performed at Beiteddine -- (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )