A springtime festival

After the 2020 edition of the festival, in honor of India, was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic just days after opening, the Opéra national du Rhin and its partners are delighted to announce the return of Arsmondo next spring, when the festival will showcase the cultural riches of Lebanon. Our journey takes us from a large country on one subcontinent to another continent and a small nation that is home to just over six million people. This country’s importance in the world is, as I am sure you know, disproportionate to its size and population. Despite its fragile political balance, more precarious than ever given its current disastrous economic climate, and the tragic geopolitical situation of a country that is no stranger to blood and tears, Lebanon is steeped in ancient history and religious and cultural diversity. Even the name of this fascinating country is a romantic allusion to the whiteness of Mount Lebanon where, legend has it, the beautiful Adonis died and which towers 3,000 meters above a country that is roughly the size of the Gironde region. The religious communities that coexist in Lebanon—Maronites, Melkites, Greek Orthodox, Druze, Palestinians, Shias, and Sunnis—are central to its unique makeup and prevent the country from being pigeonholed as something it is not: an Arab nation like the others. Lebanon, against all odds, is diverse, is complex, in a Middle East where uniformity is imposed by authoritarian rule in the name of nationalism or religion. As such, the cedar that features so proudly on the Lebanese flag is a symbol of both its legendary past and its outward-looking future. The tree is mentioned in the Sumerian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh, in the Old Testament, in which Solomon uses cedar to build the Temple of Jerusalem. It can also be found in Egyptian tombs, carved into sarcophagi. The fascinating and mysterious Phoenician civilization built ships from this rotproof timber to become the first seafaring explorers on Mediterranean waters from the 12 century BC. Sailing in these boats, the Phoenicians spread far and wide a language whose alphabet developed on the coasts of the ancient cities of Tyria, Byblos, and Sidonia, and continues to fascinate archaeologists and historians today.
Ovid, a contemporary of the ancient major city of Heliopolis whose Roman ruins, in Baalbek, are among the most stunning relics from the Byzantine Empire, set one of Zeus’ most spectacular abductions on a beach in Phoenicia. The Latin poet tells of how Zeus, in the form of a white bull, seduces a young princess who mounts the creature’s back after winding chains of flowers around its horns. This young woman was called Europa and gave her name to our continent. Lebanon today is a fragile utopia under constant threat of invasion, collapse, or civil war. The country, through its culture, has close ties with France, which was instrumental in helping Lebanon achieve independence in 1943. Before that, the role Lebanon played during the Crusades and later during the emergence of the Crusader states made it a natural guardian of the holy cities and Christians in the Levant. While Arabic is the official language there, represented by prominent novelists and intellectuals such as Elias Khoury, French culture has a firm foothold in Lebanon. Just look to the political works of Georges Schehade and Etel Adnan, the diverse oeuvre of Wajdi Mouawad, the writings of Amin Maalouf, or the bridges between the two nations built by artists Shafic Abboud and Huguette Caland - and by composer and painter Zad Moultaka who splits his time between Beirut and Paris and whose new opera, Le Choix d’Hémon, is to premiere at the festival. Arsmondo invites you to discover the myriad faces of Lebanon, from its ancient past to its contemporary present, in 2021. A Lebanon whose youth stood together in 2019 and 2020 to show how much they are prepared to fight for a brighter future.