Tucked away in the heart of the Rappahannock Valley amidst rolling fields and bales of hay is what might objectively be the late Maestro Lorin Maazel’s greatest accomplishment: the Castleton Festival. Dedicated to developing, instructing, and providing exposure and performance opportunities for young artists, the Festival was officially founded by Maestro Maazel in 2009. With its reputation for a high level of artistry and a massive scale chicken coop was overhauled and turned into the intimate Theater House, the first theatre on the sprawling property about an hour and a half outside of Washington DC in Castleton, Virginia.
I took my first sojourn down to the festival last month. Positioned in one of the country’s most scenically beautiful areas, signs for the festival spring up amongst sprawling hills, bales of hay, and wooded forks in the road. The scenic element that’s become so commonplace in the summer opera festival circuit, the things that make destination opera spots like Glimmerglass, Santa Fe, and Caramoor, is something Castleton has in spades.
Despite the festival’s short run time, late-June through the end of July, the season is a busy one. This year, the festival presented fully staged performances of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, a double bill featuring Ravel’s L’Heure Espagnol and a new opera, Scalia & Ginsburg, by Derrick Wang about the relationship between U.S. Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Also presented are a variety of symphonic concerts, masterclasses, Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, and performances by Castleton’s young artist in residence program, C.A.T.S (Castleton Artists Training Seminar) in an opera scenes concert. I was lucky enough to see one of the C.A.T.S performances as well as a performance of Heure Espagnol and Scalia & Ginsburg. The young artists training down at Castleton delivered a very fun night in scenes from operas and Sondheim musicals. The talent level was high and each of the numerous performers looked to be enjoying themselves. Heure Espagnol was well, sung, funnilly staged, and well played in the pit. Scalia & Ginsburg, a piece that couldn’t have found a more perfect spot for its world premiere, was surprisingly humorous and gave a voice(nay, voices) to a part of the government Americans don’t hear nearly enough from.
In a time of year for destination opera, it’s time to add the Castleton Festival, a festival on the rise, to lists for the summer.
Photos by Molly M. Peterson and Tjark Jinke