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October 5, 2010

Castleton Festival announces 2011 season of operas, concerts, new partnerships

One of the most pleasant surprises of the past decade was the arrival of the Castleton Festival down in Rappahannock County, Virginia. Held on the expansive estate of famed conductor Lorin Maazel and his wife, Dietlinde Turban Maazel, the festival exerts a magnetic pull on summertime music lovers interested in experiencing young artists performing in an intimate, inviting country setting.

"We are rather proud of it," Maazel said Monday morning during a season-announcement press event at the Willard Hotel in Washington. "There's still a lot to do," he added, but the track record after only two seasons is awfully impressive.

The production of Puccini's "Il Trittico" -- amazingly, this marked the first time Maazel conducted a Puccini opera conducted in this country -- boasted super-promising singers, sensitive stage direction and, of course, superior guidance from the pit.

Given that success, it's tantalizing to see that the opening of the 2011 Castelton Festival on June 25 will offer a new production of

"La Boheme." And it's great to know that soprano Joyce El-Khoury will sing the role of Mimi; she was a major vocal attraction in "Trittico" last July.

She was on hand Monday to sing for the press/patron session, which was being streamed live. Her performance of Mimi's Act 1 aria was remarkably rich in tone color and expressive nuance. Same for her account of "O mio babbino caro" from "Gianni Schicchi." 

And Tyler Nelson, a fine young Castleton-groomed tenor, made quite a positive impression, too, in an aria from "Falstaff." Both singers were beautifully accompanied at a humble upright piano by Wilson Southerland. (Maazel, standing off to one side and behind the singers, kept a close eye on things; his right hand went into conducting mode every now and then, as if involuntarily.)   

There will also be new stagings of Ravel's "L'enfant et les Sortileges" and Weill's "Seven Deadly Sins" during the 2011 season. The lineup includes a reprise of the previous Castleton stagings of Stravinsky's "A Soldier's Tale" and de Falla's "Master Pedro's Puppet Show."

Concerts by the festival orchestra, which features young players from 20 countries, will again be part of the activity at the farm. Maazel will lead an all-Bizet program with mezzo Denyce Graves, an all-Gershwin program and more.

Folks disinclined or unable to make the trek to the hills will be especially pleased, I should think, to see that the festival is coming closer next summer.

Several Maazel-led events will be presented at the new Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, including an evening of "Porgy and Bess" selections; performances of "Il Tabarro" and "Gianni Schicchi" from the "Trittico" production; and a concert with Graves commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run.

Castelton is expanding its reach beyond Virginia, too -- performances are slated from Berkeley, Calif., to Beijing during 2011.

Back at Castleton, another new element will be introduced for 2011. "Dietlinde was disgruntled at the level of the cuisine," Maazel said. So French chef Gerard Pangaud is going to prepare upgraded selections for festival patrons. As the conductor put it, "For those of you who don't like the performances, you're sure going to love the food."


Posted by Tim Smith at 7:48 AM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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