Now in its sixth season, the Castleton Festival has carved a unique and significant niche for itself in the world of classical music. As much as its summer music festival, which vitally enriches Northern Virginia’s cultural scene, its training program has become an important incubator for rising classical musical stars.
Founded and primarily funded by world-renown Maestro Lorin Maazel and his wife, the famed German actress Deitlinde Turban, Castleton each summer brings together world-famous professionals with approximately 250 advanced young singers and musicians and other performance artists.
“Tomorrow’s stars,” as Maazel describes them.
Ranging in age from 18 to mid-30s, members of Castleton’s highly competitive and selective residency programs--singers, conductors, instrumentalists, music directors, set and costume designers, technicians--live, learn and perform at the Maazels 600-acre working livestock farm in Rappahannock County.
Most performances at the farm—weekends through July 20--are held in Castleton’s Festival Theatre--a large, well-lit and air-conditioned permanent tent-like structure, set picturesquely in a meadow, that boasts a full-size state-of-the-art stage and orchestra pit. More intimate performances take place in the 140-seat Theatre House.
This summer, the Castleton Festival presents two full-length operas, Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” as well as three symphonic concerts, plus chamber music and recitals.
A theatrical reading of George Bernard Shaw’s “Don Juan in Hell” also will be presented July 12 by Broadway, film and televisions stars Maria Tucci (“Law & Order,” “To Die For”), Dylan Baker (“The Good Wife,” “Zero Hour,” “Spider Man 2”), and Patrick Breen (“Blue Bloods,” “CSI Miami”).
A “CATS Spectacular,” featuring opera scenes performed by the Class of 2014 with orchestra, will conclude the Festival with two performances.
In addition, there are talks, a pre-performance cabaret, cooking classes, and fine dining in the great hall and terraces of the Theatre House.
And as part of a special partnership, in its fourth consecutive summer, the Castleton Festival returns to the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas on Thursday, July 10, to present “Music, Theater, Opera!,” starring Maazel and internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, along with the Castleton Festival Orchestra.
The program includes opera selections from Mozart, Rossini, Strauss, and Lehar as well as Broadway classics from Gershwin, Kern and Hammerstein, Porter, Rogers and Hart, and Lerner and Loewe.
“People feel intimidated when you say ‘classical concert.’ We’re doing something challenging, charming, accessible,” said Graves, speaking during a conference call with Nancy Gustafson, the Festival’s general manager and an operatic soprano who sang in all the world’s major opera houses for three decades.
“This concert, I promise you, will be spectacular,” said Gustafson, who is also head of the Castleton Artists Training Seminars or CATS, along with Turban.
Gustafson tied the quality of Castleton performances to two key components--its exceptional young artists and exceptional and world-renowned artist-teachers, like Graves who is returning for a third year.
“I’m amazed at the level of singers [this year],” said Gustafson, 58, noting that CATS applicants were limited to 300 and only 45 were chosen. CATS participants spend eight intense weeks studying singing, acting, movement, languages and career management.
In addition to singers, Castleton’s young artists, this year, include 58 professional musicians from all over the world and 15 young conductors, who are participating in the new “Maestro Maazel Masterclasses.”
While Maazel, who has the final say, auditions all via videotape, Gustafson has the mammoth task of auditioning each one live.
“The singers, the 45 CATS, they are all dying to work with Denyce; they’re lined up,” said Gustafson, speaking from Rappahannock.
Graves, who was calling from Alaska where she was camping with family, said: “What’s unusual at Castleton is that they get to work with real singers with real careers, international figures in music. … No one else is offering them that. That alone is reason to come to Castleton.”
The superstar status of Castleton’s visiting artists, like Graves, is only one of the attractions for these rising stars.
For both Graves and Gustafson, what Castleton offers, too, is a uniquely nurturing but reality-based environment.
“I understand them,” said Graves, 50. “ I’ve been where they are, where most of them are headed and desire to be … and I understand the obstacles, which are more than they can imagine.”
She added: “I try not to play God. I ask what their desires are. … I try to inspire, motivate and uplift. … You have to be in love with making music. You do it because you have to do it … but it’s also a business. That’s a shocker to some of them. Understanding that aspect is vital, too.”
And while “very exciting talents” come to Castleton, she recognized, “It’s not always the one with the most beautiful voice who makes a career.”
In addition to tenacity, the bottomline, Graves advised, has to be authenticity, passion and honesty. “The stage,” she said, “is a magnifying glass. … You must offer something real and honest. It takes time to discover that. … Being an artist is a process.”
Agreeing, Gustafson enthused, “Denyce is not only a spectacular artist but a lot more. … It’s more than standing on stage and singing. A major aspect of [Denyce’s] talent is the light that comes out of her soul. … A remarkable women, she has a heart of gold and a voice that’s one in a million.”
A woman of Herculean stamina, too, Graves, she recalled, taught 24 lessons in just three days last year.
Working with the CATS singers in between weekend performances, Castleton’s distinguished 2014 roster of teachers also includes: Carol Vaness, an internationally known lyric soprano famous for her Mozart roles; James Morris, a leading American bass-baritone; Marlena Malas, an internationally renown recitalist and eminent voice teacher; and Richard Leech, an American operatic tenor and recipient of the Richard Tucker Award.
“We’ve got every voice type covered here, and all are as enthusiastic as I am,” Gustafson said.
Performances are the major way that Castleton has been doing community outreach. In addition, this summer it started a new program to introduce an even younger audience to the joys of the performance arts.
Called “Castleton Alive,” this new dimension to its offerings invites regional elementary schools to bring their students to the farm for hands-on experiences in basic singing and acting techniques and all kinds of stagecraft.
So far, Gustafson said, students and teachers from schools in the towns of Culpeper and Madison and Rappahannock, Fauquier and Prince William counties have participated. She hopes to also engage schools in Fairfax and Loudoun counties in the future.
“Music permeates all our lives at all ages,” said Gustafson, noting that the idea for the program came directly from Maazel, now 84, about a year-and-a-half ago.
“Maestro said ‘I want to bring young people into Castleton.’ We thought how could we expand. … We got a grant and did it,” she explained, suggesting “it’s huge for us. We have so much fun with the kids here. … Everything is happening here.”