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Castleton Festival announces 3rd season for 2011

Lorin Maazel's Castleton Festival is not yet three years old, but it is growing with remarkable speed. At a press luncheon today at the Willard Hotel, it announced an expanded, month-long season (June 25 through July 24) for the summer of 2011, opening with "La Boheme" and including Ravel's "L'Enfant et les Sortileges." It also announced new local, national, and international partnerships, ranging from performances at George Mason University's the new Hylton Center in Manassas, VA., to a co-production with China's National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing of a "Barber of Seville" that will then travel to America to open the Castleton season in 2012. Not bad for a mom-and-pop event in the middle of the countryside (it's held on the Maazels' private estate in Rappahannock County, VA).

Of course, none of this would be happening if "pop" weren't a world-famous conductor. But Maazel's commitment to this venture, his willingness to put his money where his mouth is (most of the funding so far has come from his own pocket) and dedicate himself to the young artists who participate, is striking. It's a big reason the festival is doing so well, and it's helping it evolve from what many thought was a kind of vanity project into something far more substantial -- as well as shifting Maazel's public image from a brilliant but distant man who did not suffer fools lightly to, at today's luncheon, an affable emcee.

2011 opens with a notable debut: amazingly, Maazel has never before conducted Puccini's classic opera. Joyce El-Khoury, the soprano who was so memorable as Lauretta and Suor Angelica at last year's opening night, will sing Mimi; at the press luncheon, she offered Maazel's guests a rendition of "Mi chiamano Mimi" that made a sound case for her claim on the role. The other new productions are Kurt Weill's "The Seven Deadly Sins" and the Ravel (a piece for which Maazel has a particular affinity). In addition, the festival will bring back two evenings of one-act operas from last summer -- "A Soldier's Tale" and "Master Pedro's Puppet Show," "Il Tabarro" and Gianni Schicchi" -- and offer three performances at the Hylton Center, including a concert of highlights from "Porgy and Bess" on July 7 and a performance with Denyce Graves marking the anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run on July 21. (Graves will also appear in an all-Bizet evening in the festival tent on June 26.)

The productions are all in the hands of William Kerley, the festival's resident stage director, to whom Maazel effusively attributed "the finest touch of any stage director I've worked with. And I've worked with some good ones," he added, citing Giorgio Strehler and Wieland Wagner, before averring Castleton's credo of "stabilizing" opera presentation. "We don't believe it helps to sell tickets," he said, "by dressing up everyone in monkey suits."

"We are rather proud of it," Maazel said to a room overflowing with journalists and guests. "We think," he said, like a pleased cat over a cream saucer, "that we've created something rather special."

By Anne Midgette  | October 4, 2010; 4:55 PM ET
Categories:  Anne Midgette  
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