By Kate Masters
Passion for music defines any conductor’s career, and Maestro Lorin Maazel is pouring his into the Castleton Opera Festival, even after illness forced him to lay down his baton with the renowned Munich Philharmonic Orchestra in his third season.
Castleton, which runs this year from June 28 to July 20, is more than just an opera festival. It’s also a mentoring program, bringing talented young musicians together with some of the world’s most renowned artists.
Maestro Maazel, largely regarded as the best conductor in the world, mentors the orchestra and a master class of conductors, and world famous opera singers teach classes to advanced students.
Castleton is as well-known for its training program as its performances—the Castleton Artist Training Seminar runs from June 1 to July 20 and gives master vocal students the chance to train under greats like Marlena Malas, “widely regarded as one of the finest teachers in the country,” according to the New York Times.
Selected C.A.T.S. students can also get the chance to perform in some of the festival’s main stage productions.
Subject to an nearly relentless conducting and travel schedule as the director of the Munich Philharmonic, Maestro Maazel dealt with illness and exhaustion in his last few months with the orchestra, forcing him to give up the position. Now he’s focusing his energy on Castleton, which he founded in 2009 with his wife, Dietlinde.
According to Nancy Gustafson, a tenured soprano and the General Manager of the festival, his excitement has never been higher—in letters to friends, he’s written it’s going to be the best festival yet, and he’s said the orchestra this year is the best they’ve ever had.
Passion also defines the Castleton Festival, itself. In the words of Gustafson, Castleton is Lorin Maazel—he conceived the festival and nurtured it to international acclaim over the past six years, and he mentors his master class of conductors every season, counting on the promise of young talent to send violins singing over the Rappahannock in perpetuity.
This merging of seasoned and fledging talent is part of what makes the festival special and exciting for both guests and participants, according to Gustafson. Also exciting are this season’s scheduled operas—Madame Butterfly and Don Giovanni—two performances that are especially dear to Maestro Maazel’s heart. In fact, the conductor’s recording of Madame Butterfly is considered one of the best ever created, and his passion for both pieces translates into their performance at Castleton.
“Every time I watch Butterfly, I’m in tears,” says Gustafson. “It’s just such a masterpiece. And we have a cast that will take your breath away for Don Giovanni—one singer is better than the next. To watch these shows against the backdrop of the rolling hills of Castleton; well, it’s just a wonderful evening at the theatre.”
Not content to stop at opera, the festival includes symphonic concerts and chamber music, an all-American band concert and bluegrass. Theater also makes an appearance with a dramatic reading of George Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell, performed by Maria Tucci of “Law and Order,” Dylan Baker of “The Good Wife,” and Patrick Breen of “Blue Bloods.”
There’s also a Story in Music program, featuring Peter and the Wolf and three compositions by Maestro Maazel himself. On top of that, there’s Music, Theater, Opera!, a two-act program with star vocalist Denyce Graves that covers great hits of opera in its first half and great hits of musical theater in its second.
Festival visitors can find more information on the Castleton website: ticket prices range from $20 to $192 for some package deals. Beyond the festival’s dramatic repertoire, there are even cooking classes and a Law in Opera program with the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an event that’s unfortunately been sold out.
When describing the art of conducting, Gustafson says that a conductor’s job is to balance every line of a piece. With its blend of music and theater, the foreign and the familiar, Maestro Maazel manages to balance every line of the Castleton Festival, as well.