Castleton Farms © Leslie Maazel
Castleton Farms
© Leslie Maazel

Any number of summer festivals can boast idyllic surroundings, but few can match the artistic ideals which infuse the very special atmosphere of Castleton Festival in the rolling fields of Virginia. Now approaching its sixth season, the festival was founded by Lorin and Dietlinde Maazel in 2009 and is about musical excellence and developing ‘the stars of tomorrow’ in a three-week programme of events.

Lorin Maazel © Chris Lee
Lorin Maazel
© Chris Lee

Members of the Castleton Festival Orchestra are chosen each year by Lorin Maazel, drawn from hundreds of auditions. The Castleton Artist Training Program (CATS) nutures 40-50 students over an eight-week course which entails a variety of tuition, from weekly voice lessons and language studies to stage make-up and digital marketing. The teaching faculty boasts an experienced roster, including Carol Vaness, Denyce Graves and James Morris, while Lorin Maazel himself is likened to “the gardener” helping to nurture this young talent. The atmosphere is very much on the collegiate. As one participant puts it, “Who can ‘pull a diva’ when you’re on a farm?”!

The programme at Castleton mixes the orchestral with the operatic, masterclasses with chamber music. The 650-seat Festival Theatre plays host to two operas this season – Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly – both crowd-pleasing favourites.

Madama Butterfly, directed by Tomer Zvulun, plays with alternating casts, Ekaterina Metlova, who debuted in the title role of Minnie in the 2013 festival’s La fanciulla del West, plays Cio-Cio San, the trusting Japanese girl (dubbed “Butterfly”) bought in marriage by the American naval officer, Pinkerton, who later abandons her for an all-American wife. Metlova alternates with young American soprano Amber Daniel. The production sees the return of Jonathan Burton as Pinkerton, while Christopher Bozeka sings in the second cast. Corey Crider and Anthony Eversole alternate as Sharpless, the sympathetic US Consul, who warns Pinkerton against the marriage and is left to pick up the pieces.

Don Giovanni is a great ensemble piece and a perfect one for Castleton’s roster of young artists. Italian stage director Giandomenico Vaccari returns to direct. Javier Arrey (Iago in Verdi’s Otello in 2013) returns to play the licentious Don, joined by Tyler Simpson as his faithful manservant Leporello, and Chloé Moore Jennifer Black and Amanda Crider as his would-be conquests Donna Anna, Donna Elvira and Zerlina. In a neat bit of programming, Act III of George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, “Don Juan in Hell” – an “ironic counterpiece” to Don Giovanni when the Don has conversations with several characters he encounters in the underworld – is given a theatrical reading.  

Castleton Orchestra performs © Leslie Maazel
Castleton Orchestra performs
© Leslie Maazel

On the orchestral front, an exploration of storytelling in music on 13 July opens with what is justifiably the greatest introduction to orchestral music through storytelling ever composed: Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. The rest of the programme features music composed by Maazel himself, including The Empty Pot, a Chinese Legend (with text by the children’s book author Demi).

Alongside Don Giovanni, Mozart’s music also features in a concert titled “King Mozart” on 29 June, where Eric Silberger is the soloist in the Salzburg maestro’s Violin Concerto no. 5, nicknamed “the Turkish” because of the col legno effects (striking the strings with the back of the bow) in the final movement, mimicking Turkish ‘Janissary’ percussion.

Puccini’s role as one of the most romantic composers is celebrated in a concert entitled ‘Love in Music’, with the duet from La bohème. Tchaikovsky also features strongly, with music from his Eugene Onegin and the Rococo Variations, with award-winning cellist Alisa Weilerstein as the soloist.

From established artists to the stars of tomorrow, the Castleton Festival 2014 promises to be as special as ever. For more information, including several videos about the festival, visit the website

This article is sponsored by Castleton Festival.