On the site of a historic farm in a corner of Rappahannock County not far from Warrenton, Va., the brand new Castleton Festival — devoted primarily to the revival and performance of chamber operas by up-and-coming young singers and musicians — opened its doors this past weekend. Highlights included tours, lectures and boffo performances of two rarely heard operatic works.
Lorin Maazel, who recently retired as the New York Philharmonic’s music director, bought the 500-acre property in the late 1980s as a rural retreat from the rigors of international conducting. Its 1857 brick farmhouse evolved into the Maazel family home as well as ground zero for the Chateauville Foundation, an organization dedicated to the nurturing of young talent.
This year, with the addition of a large, acoustically tuned tent, the foundation has launched its first Castleton Festival, named after the farm and the area. The event gathers about 200 young musicians and singers along with first-chair players from the philharmonic. The latter, along with Mr. Maazel, will conduct open master classes throughout the festival.
Two of four featured operatic works debuted this past weekend. The first, a spooky, effective production of Benjamin Britten’s Henry James-inspired opera “The Turn of the Screw,” was staged in the theater with Mr. Maazel conducting the opening performances.
The key role of the governess was sung with passion and clarity by soprano Charlotte Dobbs. Soprano Kirby Anne Hall and boy soprano Harry Risoleo were nearly letter-perfect as the increasingly off-the-wall children Flora and Miles. Also turning in fine performances were Rachel Calloway (Mrs. Grose) and Greta Ball and Steven Ebel as the evil spirits of Mrs. Jessel and Peter Quint.
The company’s production of Mr. Britten’s brilliant take on John Gay’s 18th-century “Beggar’s Opera” was as raucously enjoyable as one could desire and closer in spirit to the bawdy original than Kurt Weill’s more famous adaptation, the acidic “Threepenny Opera.”
Making ingenious use of a raw plywood stage loaded with trapdoors and other special effects, the festival’s smashing update — which includes plenty of spoken dialogue and burlesque shtick — was highlighted by the large cast’s tremendous vocal talents and pure animal spirits.
Tenor Dominic Armstrong was phenomenal as Macheath, the opera’s central character. His broadly comic acting style was perfect for the role, and his crystal-clear, magnificent tenor voice predicts a great future ahead. As his two “wives,” Polly and Lucy, Julia Elise Hardin and Sarah Moule were delightful, as were Michael Rice, Melissa Parks and Darren Perry as the nefarious Mr. and Mrs. Peachum and Mr. Lockit.
A hat tip also goes out to the rowdy chorus. They were pitch-perfect, nearly always in time with the tempo and added to the production’s sense of fun. Again under Mr. Maazel’s baton, the young orchestra members — like those who performed in “Turn of the Screw” — provided first-rate accompaniment. A big thumbs-up for all.
WHAT: Castleton Festival
WHEN: “Beggar’s Opera” Sunday at 7 p.m., July 16 at 7:30 p.m. and July 18 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Castleton, Va. (For directions, visit www.chateauville.org).
TICKETS: $70 to 80
PHONE: 540/937-4969 or toll-free 866/974-0767
WEB SITE: www.chateauville.org
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS