Dietlinde and Lorin Maazel © Molly M Peterson
Dietlinde and Lorin Maazel
© Molly M Peterson
The death of Lorin Maazel cast a huge shadow over last summer’s Castleton Festival. Created in 2009 by the Maestro and his wife, Dietlinde Turban Maazel, the summer music festival takes place on their Castleton Farms estate, Virginia. The festival comprises a programme of performances, but also – crucially – training seminars and workshops for the young performers selected to take part each year. This nurturing aspect was key to what made the festival unique. With the Maestro’s death, was Castleton’s future ever in doubt?

For Dietlinde “It was not even a ‘choice’, it was a deeply felt obligation on my part to continue his vision and dream. My husband had invested so much of his energy, devotion and personal funds into this extraordinary venture, that I consider this my life’s mission to secure the Festival’s future and growth in order for this extraordinary art form of opera to remain!”

Lorin Maazel’s legacy for mentoring young musicians at Castleton goes back to the festival’s birth. “He held seminars for young conductors from the beginning,” Dietlinde explains. “The group grew from seven participants in the first year to 16 last year. The Maestro would work with the young “conducting fellows” on a daily basis, addressing conducting techniques in specifically chosen, challenging repertoire. The Fellows also had performance opportunities during the Festival. Last summer (2014) three of the most talented Fellows were entrusted with all the opera and concert performances given Maestro’s illness.” Salvatore Percacciolo, one of those Fellows, is invited back to Castleton this summer to conduct the world première of Scalia/Ginsburg by Derrick Wang in a double bill alongside Ravel’s L’Heure espagnole.

Mentoring is incorporated on all levels. The CATS program (Castleton Artists Training Seminar) offers comprehensive rigorous training to about 50 young singers every summer such as individual vocal lessons by a renowned faculty (Denyce Graves, Stanford Olsen etc), acting, stage combat and movement, French, German and Italian language studies, audition and career seminars etc. CATS participants sing in the chorus, comprimario (smaller) roles or cover roles and grow into main stage roles over time.

Castleton Farms © Leslie Maazel
Castleton Farms
© Leslie Maazel
The orchestra is composed of young pre-professionals who play under the guidance of a highly experienced concert master and section leaders. Every department such as lighting and set design, costumes, stage management etc mirrors this concept of mentorship as well.

Mentorship is not a one-way process. What did the Maestro himself gain from the experience? “He found his work with young conductors immensely rewarding. He felt that there was no comparable “mentorship” program that would be as comprehensive in that he addressed a wide spectrum of knowledge that he said a conductor needed to have delved into: foreign languages and literature, philosophy, history, psychology. Sometimes he would say “conducting cannot be taught”, but he was constantly searching for ways to “pass on the baton” and pass on his “secrets” that made him such a remarkable master.”

Rafael Payare © Luis Cobelo
Rafael Payare
© Luis Cobelo
One of Lorin Maazel’s young conducting protégés was Rafael Payare, a graduate of Venezuela’s El Sistema. He made his Castleton debut in 2012, conducting Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and this summer is invited back as the festival’s Principal Conductor. “It’s a great honor and I am very grateful to the Maazel family for giving me this opportunity,” Payare declares. “It is very important because Maestro Maazel invested a lot of his time and effort in this wonderful project. It is a unique opportunity to keep developing Maestro’s dream and make it reality. So I will do everything in my power to keep growing this and raising the bar to the highest artistic level possible.”

Payare launches the festival with performances of Gounod’s Shakespearean tragedy Roméo et Juliette, a departure from the Italian repertoire of recent seasons and providing a contrast with the Scalia/Ginsberg world première. Dietlinde explains for singers are selected for the programme. “Principal singers are chosen by audition. Criteria are vocal qualities and acting skills to assure a believable portrayal. We like to cast singers whom we had the opportunity to watch and train through the Castleton Festival in previous years and then bring them back once they are ready for a more significant role. This is part of our mentoring principle.”

L’Heure espagnole is partnered with Derrick Wang’s Scalia/Ginsburg. Dietlinde elucidates her thinking behind this pairing. “Both operas are comedic farces, offering a “tongue-and cheek” approach to their respective subject matters. Musically they complement each other, with Derrick Wang’s compositional language of quotes from familiar operas and Ravel’s subtle writing.”

“Castleton is not only a producing entity but also a “teaching” Festival. Through our community engagement programs and, given the fact that we are out in the midst of rolling hills and cow fields, my goal is to “demystify” opera and make it more accessible to a broader and younger audience while keeping the highest standard, not by “popularizing” the content but by making it attractive to listen to and watch in an informal setting at Castleton Farms.”

There can be few more glorious venues to “demystify” opera. The powerful message emerging from Castleton is that Lorin Maazel’s legacy lives on.


Article sponsored by Castleton Festival.