If you haven't yet taken the drive into sweet Virginia countryside to sample the Castleton Festival, this sure looks like a good year to make the trip.
The fifth annual festival, held on the sprawling grounds of conductor Lorin Maazel's estate in Rappahannock County, promises two big operas -- Verdi's "Otello" and Puccini's "La fanciulla del West" -- and two Mahler symphonies, just for starters.
There's room, too, for a remarkable double-bill of Poulenc's riveting one-woman opera "La voix humaine" and the Cocteau play that inspired it, the first time, apparently, the two have been presented in tandem. Excerpts from Tchaikovsky and Britten operas in concert, chamber music, Mahler lieder, and even Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Requiem" are also on the lineup.
When they founded the festival, Maazel and his wife, Dietlinde Turban Maazel, set out to provide mentoring for gifted young artists and performance opportunities for them. Both goals seem to get more richly fulfilled each year. The Castleton Festival recently got new boards of directors and advisers and attracted new funding.
Giving the venture one more vote of confidence -- the Virginia Department of Transportation has added permanent road signs directing travelers to the festival, welcome news to anyone who has gotten a wee bit lost or unsure on the way there.
The new "Fanciulla" production (July 6, 12, and 21) stars Ekaterina Metlova as Minnie, Jonathan Burton as Dick Johnson. "Otello" (July 13, 19, 26 and 28), in a production that originated at the Glyndebourne Festival in England, will feature Rafael Rojas and Kirk Dougherty alternating in the title role and Joyce El-Khoury (she left a memorable mark in previous Castleton appearances) as Desdemona. Maazel conducts both operas in the 648-seat Festival Theatre.
The wonderfully intimate 138-seat Theatre House will be the site for the Poulenc opera, featuring Jennifer Black and conducted by Antonia Mendez, and the Cocteau play, which will star Dietlinde Turban Maazel (July 13, 20, 27).
Black will be the soloist with the Castleton Festival Orchestra (80 from this country and abroad) in Mahler's Symphony No. 4, conducted by Lorin Maazel on July 7; this program also offers Mendelssohn's "Reformation" Symphony. Malko Competition winner Rafael Payare will conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 on July 14.
If you cannot get all the way to Rappahannock County, note that the Castleton Festival will present two events at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas.
The first is this Sunday, a concert loaded with Italian opera favorites. Maazel, Mendez and Payare will share podium duties. The program features soprano Elizabeth Futral, a favorite of Lyric Opera Baltimore (among many other companies), tenor Jonathan Burton and baritone Corey Crider. And the Mahler/Mendelssohn program from July 7 at the festival will be presented on July 18 at the Hyton Center.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun