Making music until the cows come home

By Luke ChristopherLuke Christopher
Tenor Daniel Montenegro and soprana Rebecca Nathanson in the title roles of the Castleton Festival’s “Roméo et Juliette.”

This being the singular nexus of cow pasture and culture known as Rappahannock County, I suppose you’ll be expecting expert music criticism from someone who went to the opera only after spending the day listening to the mournful sound heifers make after their calves are carted off.

For now, let’s just say both performances were equally moving. As far as inspiring hope and joy in the listener, however, the humans win.

In fact, at the opening-night gala last Friday for the Castleton Festival’s seventh season — its first summer music festival without its founder Lorin Maazel, who died before the close of last year’s festival — the subjects of livestock, and of hopes and dreams, turned out to be part of a recurring theme.

First, as more than 100 supporters sat down for a benefit dinner before Friday night’s premiere of Charles Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette,” Leslie Maazel — addressing the crowd as he stood beside his mother, the maestro’s widow Dietlinde Turban Maazel, who is now Castleton’s CEO and artistic director — recalled the first time, a decade and a half ago, that his father stood on the site where the 140-seat Theatre House now stands, and voiced his dream.

“It was a chicken coop,” Maazel said. “And he saw here a theater.”

Later that night, as he and his mother introduced the opera at the 650-seat Festival Theatre down the road, Leslie Maazel again recalled standing years ago with his father roughly where he stood now.

It was a cow pasture. He said his father asked him if he thought an orchestra pit would fit where they were standing, and then walked it off himself, and afterward seemed satisfied that it would.

It did. Maazel said these words as he stood directly in front of an actual orchestra pit, filled with young musicians, 45 of whom were chosen from the more than 300 who applied to participate in this year’s festival.

The opera that followed was captivating; the voices of leads Daniel Montenegro and Rebecca Nathanson among the best I’ve heard at Castleton, both in duet and solo; the baton and ardor of principal conductor Rafael Payare fulfilling much of the promise the elder Maazel clearly saw there.

In any case, should you find yourself considering, for economic or other reasons, possible future uses for what might now be cow pastures and chicken coops, a couple of tickets to Castleton between now and August will do much for your hopes and dreams.

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