The Castleton Festival, located on the estate of celebrated conductor/composer Lorin Maazel in Virginia’s Rappahannock County, is a cultural “Brigadoon” for music lovers. This marks the fifth season of what began as the mission of Mr. Maazel and his award-winning actress wife, Dietlinde Turban Maazel, to mentor the next generation of classical musicians and artists.
The current music director of the Munich Philharmonic, Mr. Maazel has held that post with the New York Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra. In addition to guest appearances with major orchestras worldwide, he also has been artistic director and principal conductor of the Vienna State Opera and the Deutsche Oper Berlin and made more than 300 recordings. Instead of relaxing at their estate between assignments, he and his wife conduct a residency program there to hone the skills of outstanding young musicians he has met and auditioned during his travels.
This season, the Castleton Festival Orchestra is comprised of more than 70 instrumentalists from around the world. They are joined by 54 singer residents (Castleton Artists Training Seminar, or CATS), rising conductors, stage directors, makeup artists, lighting specialists, and costume and set designers. In addition to personal guidance by the Maazels, individual training is enhanced by a board of artistic advisers and virtuosos in every field, among them mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, soprano Nancy Gustafson, bass-baritone James Morris, tenor Neil Shicoff, conductor Rafael Payare and actor Jeremy Irons.
The featured shows this season are Puccini’s “The Girl of the Golden West,” Verdi’s “Otello” and a double bill of the one-woman tour-de-force, “La Voix Humaine,” first the Jean Cocteau play, then the Francis Poulenc opera. Mrs. Maazel performs the Cocteau work, while Metropolitan Opera soprano Jennifer Black will sing the Poulenc role. The debut performance last week received rave reviews from the audience, who appreciated seeing the theater version first in order to better understand the opera.
“When I began looking two years ago for a vehicle for our little theater, I thought of Ingrid Bergman’s movie version of the Cocteau play,” Mrs. Maazel said. “The story is about a woman speaking on the telephone with her lover, who is leaving her for another woman. Poulenc made wonderful choices for his text, but the Cocteau version needed to be cleaned up. I didn’t want it to be self-pitying and spend the entire time crying, so we made our own translation.
“Even though it’s a period piece written in 1930 when everyone had the old party lines, it seems so modern today because of people talking on cellphones, Skyping or blogging in a vacuum where you’re not seeing each other. The point is that it’s easier to lie to someone on a machine when the other person can’t see the body language. In the beginning, she puts on an act telling him she will be fine, but in the end, she falls apart. The challenge in performing this play was to prepare myself to act as if I actually was hearing a man on the other end of the phone, so I created an imaginary sub-play that enabled me to converse fluidly.”
Growing up in Germany in a musical home, Mrs. Maazel played second violin in a string quartet until she discovered ballet and became obsessed with dancing. But the opportunity at age 19 to jump into a production of Goethe’s “Faust” as Gretchen launched a career that led to national fame in film and on television. In 1983, she won Germany’s Bambi Award as best actress of the year. Soon afterward, her life changed when she and Mr. Maazel met at an awards ceremony. They were married in 1986.
Two years later, they were house-hunting in a scenic area of Virginia where Mr. Maazel had become lost years earlier and which he’d never forgotten. Upon happening across a 250-year old beech tree near an old house and farm, they knew they were home. For the next 20 years, Mrs. Maazel put her own career on hold to raise and home-school their three children at Castleton Farms. Today, she thrives on coaching young opera singers in performance skills, song interpretation, languages and acting, and was recently named to the Rutgers University faculty.
WHAT: The Castleton Festival
WHERE: Castleton Farms, Rappahannock County, Va.
WHEN: Through July 28