BEIRUT: American soprano Renee Fleming, who was scheduled to open the Baalbeck International Festival at the end of June, has canceled a festival official said Friday, citing the deteriorating security conditions. The news surfaced as the organizers of Lebanon's most famous summer music festival mull over plans to relocate the event from the ancient Roman-era temple complex because of spillover violence from Syria's civil war.
The change of venue from Baalbek, where the annual music festival is usually held under the towering columns of the Temple of Jupiter, is the latest fallout from Syria's civil war. This month a barrage of 18 rockets and mortar rounds fired from Syria hit Baalbek, about 15 kilometers from the Syrian border.
Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries that are easily enflamed. Lebanon has been on edge since the uprising in Syria against President Bashar Assad erupted in March 2011. Lebanon's Sunni Muslims mostly back the overwhelmingly Sunni Syrian rebels, while many Shiites support Assad, a member of Syria's minority Alawi sect.
"The situation in Baalbek does not permit holding the festival, and we are now looking for a new venue," a Baalbeck official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak to reporters.
"Until now there is no cancelation of the festival," the official said, insisting that participants said they would go to any other venue in Lebanon for the festival.
Lebanon revived the Baalbek festival in 1997 to publicize its recovery from the 1975-90 civil war, which forced cancellation of the event for 23 years.
Over the decades, Baalbek has been known for its Roman-era ruins and the international festival under the towering columns that attracted stars like jazz singers Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone.
Recently Lebanon has been jittery because of repeated bursts of violence.