The Castleton Festival: Music Magic in Rappahannock County

Venture just outside of Washington DC for a weekend of symphony and opera in the Virginia countryside.

Nestled into the gently rolling hills of Rappahannock County Virginia,  an hour and a half drive from the blistering heat of the Washington DC summer, is the site of the Castleton Festival. Throughout July the Festival offers a sparkling array of operas, recitals and informal cabarets.
This year the season began over the weekend of the 4th of July with a performance of Puccini's "Il Trittico", followed by Benjamin Britten's "Turn of the Screw". Other operas performed this season include the "Beggar's Opera" also by Britten, Stravinsky's "A Soldier's Tale", and  Manuela de Faella's   "Master Pedro's Puppet Show". The Festival also features symphonic concerts performed in nearby Little Washington.


William Haseltine

The festival is the creation of Maestro Lorin Maazel and his wife Dietlinde. It is a labor of love; love of music, love of performance, love of teaching, love of place. Over the past 25 years the Maazel's have lovingly converted 600 acres of beautiful Virginia farmland to a music mecca.  Castleton Farms now includes two theaters, one a converted chicken coop (one would never guess its humble origins from the elegant interior), and another other in a large tent erected for the summer in a nearby field. Castleton Farms is home for the summer to two hundred young musicians, part of the Castleton Residency Program. These talented young people come to perfect the arts of opera; singing, conducting, orchestration, stage direction, and  management. Castleton is as much a school opera as it is a music festival. The students come from all over the world, attracted by the opportunity not only to learn from great masters but also to perform. Lorin Maazel holds master classes for young conductors. Singers are coached by Nancy Gustafson, a renowned soprano who also teaches at Northwestern. Dietlinde Maazel coaches young opera singers in performance skills, song interpretation and holds acting master classes. Students learn stage direction from a master, William Kereley. The air is electric with the energy of enthusiastic young musicians all doing what they love most.

My brother Eric and I were invited as guests of the Maazel's for the opening gala evening. During the day we toured the farm and watched the young musicians train and practice. The performance of Il Trittico was a delight. The singers were excellent, the voices strong and precise, the acting vibrant and compelling. The small orchestra under the direction of Maestro Maazel performed flawlessly and musically in support of the singers. The sound was that of a full scale orchestra. This is a performance at could hold its own proudly on any stage of the world. Such success is all the more remarkable as this is only the second year of the festival. Performances were held in years prior but more informally.

The Gala dinner was served in an adjacent tent during the intermissions. The festival draws support from the surrounding Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC communities. The atmosphere is warm and applicative that such musical treat should land in their midst. It was a special pleasure to sit with the young singers who had just finished their performances. They and we were breathless with delight. The evening ended with a cast party that went on far into the night.
The Festival is the center piece of the Chateauville Foundation, with the "mission to nurture young artists, foster collaborative artistic enterprise, and create opportunities within the community for shared cultural experience". According to the Maazels in recent years the Foundation has focused most prominently on the growth of young artists: advanced students and emerging professionals on the cusp of professional careers. The Foundation is funded entirely by private and corporate contributions, ticket sales and by the National Endowment of the arts.
I recommend a visit to the Castleton Festival to anyone who loves music. There is no more pleasant way to enjoy excellent performances by the top young talent of our times. The surrounding county is dotted with delightful country inns and bed and breakfasts, and for those who love good food, the nearby "Inn at Little Washington".

Operas at Castleton are staged throughout July, Thursdays through Sundays;  recitals are on Monday in Little Washington.