Castleton, Rappahannock: harmony

Harpist, by metalwork artist and painter Hans Gerhard of Slate Mills, is one of the works by local artists on display at the Castleton Festival this year. It and other works were chosen by Andrew Haley of Long View Gallery. Photo by Ray Boc.

If you have not yet been to a performance at Lorin and Dietlinde Maazel’s farm this month, transformed as it is for the second annual Castleton Festival into a low-key, high-energy classical music country fair, you are missing out on some significant good fortune.

The fortune has become obvious, at least to me, through a number of lucky experiences my wife and I have shared since the festival began last month, when more than 200 up-and-coming singers, musicians, conductors, directors, designers and others arrived at the 350-acre farm and its permanent 200-seat Theatre House and temporary 400-seat Festival Tent.

Some of the luck involved the simple confluence of Rappahannock County’s unique amalgam of serene and sweat-enhanced charms with a visit from out-of-town friends for dinner on the pub-side patio at the Blue Rock Inn. (As anyone who lives here knows, visits from friends and family often help you appreciate things about this place that you otherwise take for granted.)

At dinner, chef Rachel Rowland’s casually perfect entrees were exceeded only by the almost stage-managed performances on the hillside across the pond of frolicking horses, geese and a light breeze.

This was followed by an amazing concert of Impressionist-era music at Castleton, and a sunset worthy of Monet. It was the concert of works by Faure, Ravel, Debussy and Berlioz on July 10 — possibly the last cool, dry evening before the humidity and heat arrived, apparently for good.

Some of the luck involved getting to host, at least briefly, one of the festival opera singers — and to chat with him, he being baritone Paul LaRosa, about what the festival means to the young performers who participate. We’ll get to that in a moment.

The festival ends Sunday (July 25) with an all-Beethoven concert, led by the renowned maestro and his half-dozen conducting fellows. They’ll be leading the Festival Orchestra, a truly impressive assemblage of promising young players from top conservatories around the United States as well as students from Qatar and from London’s Royal College of Music.

There are performances between now and then of the festival’s centerpiece, Puccini’s “Il Trittico,” a triptych of emotional one-act operas (two of the three operas are performed tonight, all three on Saturday) and a double-bill of Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale” and De Falla’s “Master Pedro’s Puppet Show.” (Both Friday night’s double bill and Sunday’s matinee are sold out; if you’re not one of the lucky ones to have tickets, the festival organizers have added a 4 p.m. show Saturday of De Falla’s 30-minute comic opera, after which the audience can meet and talk to the puppeteers from New York’s Puppet Kitchen who designed and operate the festival’s only non-human stars. Tickets for the added show are just $20; call 540-937-4969.)

Of course, you could just decide that the $35 to $70 tickets are not in the budget this recession season, or pretend that the emotion, precision and tag-team bravura of classical symphony and opera music just don’t connect you better to the inherent beauty, majesty and hard work represented by these mountains, farms and foothills of Rappahannock County, and stay home.

But that would be wrong.

Baritone in the backyard

One of the nice things about volunteering to provide accommodations for a festival performer — in our case, baritone Paul LaRosa, who sings the role of Don Quixote in De Falla’s “Master Pedro’s Puppet Show,” stayed at the house for about a week — is that they tend to rehearse.

LaRosa had just returned from a run, as my wife, Charmaine, told me later, and was cooling down by walking around the edge of property out back — when he started singing.

“It was just so beautiful,” she said. “And right.”

LaRosa, 30, originally from Union, N.J., typifies the bright, energetic young performers who Maazel has brought to Castleton the last two years to perform, and learn.

A recent Juilliard Opera Center graduate (where he was Ford in Verdi’s “Falstaff,” among many other roles), LaRosa is now with the Lyric Opera’s Ryan Opera Center in Chicago. He says the trip to Castleton — which he also made last year — is “almost like a three-week reunion.”

“This is one of the best shows,” says LaRosa, after talking about the many summer choices available to young opera singers between seasons — including those at Wolf Trap, Glimmerglass and Santa Fe.

“Not only do you have such a great group of singers — I’m a little bit lucky in that I know a bunch of these people very, very well, from school and other jobs. It’s like you get to come home to a traveling band of people — it’s like your hometown, but you just all happen to be from different places.”

Baritone Paul LaRosa plays Don Quixote in a Manuel de Falla opera at Castleton. Photo by Ray Boc.

The audiences at Castleton, LaRosa says, are also a nice mix of those who follow opera and classical music, and “those who, maybe it’s their first opera, their first concert.

“It’s nice to know that if you can do something maybe very difficult, technically, that there are maybe people in the audience who may be able to appreciate that. And then there are sort of the ‘fireworks’ things, which someone who is not quite as familiar with opera will enjoy just as much.

“And then, the intimate nature of the theaters here is really nice. You get to really feel and see the audience.”

LaRosa said the intimacy helps his performance, whereas at the Lyric, “you’re alone in infinity, doing your thing, which is nice sometimes for the nerves, here it’s very much like I’m singing for these particular people and I’m relating to these particular people.”

LaRosa is scheduled to sing Brahams’ “German Requiem” in September in Rome, with Maazel conducting the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana. Working with Maazel, he says, is “a bit of a thrill.”

These are people, musicians, that you know of, growing up, and you hope to be like them one day, but you never think you’re going to share the stage with them,” he says.

Thus Maazel’s notes during rehearsals of “Master Pedro’s Puppet Show,” in which LaRosa sings the role of Don Quixote, “are incredibly valuable.

“Conductors will give you what’s on the page, whatever scholarly sort of thing they have, or their own opinion — but no one’s opinion is Lorin Maazel’s opinion. So you have this opportunity to work with this person and understand whatever small percentage of it that you can — and remember it for the rest of your life.

“I have notes on my score,” LaRosa says, air-writing on an imaginary sheet of music, “that start with ‘Maazel,’ followed by a colon. I mean — wow.”

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 540 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.