It may not rival Europe's splashy classical music festivals, but the summer presentation of concerts and operas held on the grounds of Castleton Farms, the inviting Virginia estate of conductor Lorin Maazel and his wife, actress Dietlinde Turban-Maazel, is quite an attraction.
The Castleton Festival, which opens its second season Friday and offers events each weekend through July 25, is a 2 1/2-hour drive from Baltimore into scenic rolling hills of Rappahannock County.
Two venues on the property provide audiences with unusually close-up experiences. There's the 130-seat Theatre House, built on the spot where a chicken coop once stood, down the hill from the Maazels' extensively renovated 1858 manor house. Not far away is a 400-seat, air-conditioned tent. Fully staged operas are performed in both places, orchestral concerts in the tent.
Instead of established stars, the festival features the efforts of more than 200 carefully selected young professionals who spend weeks living on the estate, honing their craft with top-flight mentors. Of course, Mentor No. 1 is Maazel, one of the world's most celebrated classical artists.
Although critics don't always agree with his interpretive ideas, Maazel, former music director of the New York Philharmonic (not to mention the Cleveland Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony and Vienna State Opera), is universally acknowledged for his brilliant conducting technique and his ability to generate superbly polished performances.
The 80-year-old Maazel could spend his summers just relaxing on the 550-acre Castleton Farms, rather than working with young singers and instrumentalists and conducting 15 performances (in a couple of cases two on the same day). He did not buy all that property years ago with a festival in mind.
"I saw myself as the Solzhenitsyn of conductors," he told me in a 2006 interview. "I would build a wall. No one would see me. But I'm really not the hermit type."
Instead, the conductor and his wife gradually added educational and career-enhancing programs for aspiring performers and, last year, expanded the activities into a full-fledged summer festival.
The 2010 lineup includes three opera productions. Maazel will conduct a new production of Puccini's "Il Trittico," a triptych of one-act works: "Il Tabarro," a gritty opera noir involving adultery and murder; "Suor Angelica," a tragic story of a nun, an out-of-wedlock child and the nun's awfully cruel aunt; and "Gianni Schicchi," a comic romp about a group of greedy relatives scheming to get themselves back into a will.
Maazel has never conducted a Puccini opera in the U.S., so these Castleton performances of "Il Trittico" are immediately newsworthy. He'll also be on the podium for "The Beggar's Opera," an 18th-century "ballad opera" arranged by Benjamin Britten; it was a hit last summer at the festival. And, speaking of Britten, a production of that composer's riveting operatic version of "The Turn of the Screw" will also be reprised, conducted by Timothy Myers.
Another new production for 2010 is a double bill of Stravinsky's "The Soldier's Tale" and Manuel de Falla's "Master Pedro's Puppet Show," conducted by Maazel.
Then there are the concerts by the Castleton Festival Orchestra, starting with an all-Italian program on Saturday and featuring such showpieces as Respighi's "Pines of Rome," and continuing next weekend with an evening of such French favorites as Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun."
Both of those performances will be led by Maazel. Later in the month, he'll share the podium with participants in his conducting master classes during a program of American works, and he'll close the festival with an all-Beethoven concert.
All in all, the Castleton Festival offers a classy, intimate and accessible way to spend some musical time down on the farm.
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