I give up on predicting the Castleton Festival, or even on trying to describe it. It’s actually refreshing, at a time when many organizations seem locked into place, to see a festival careen so wildly in different directions. When Lorin Maazel founded Castleton, a quasi-training festival featuring apprentices and young artists, it was a home for Benjamin Britten operas, and expanded to include other chamber works. It gradually developed a sideline in large-scale Puccini; detoured, last summer, into old chestnuts; and now, on Tuesday, announced a 2013 season of staggering ambition. Get ready for it: Castleton’s fifth season, in July, will feature Poulenc’s “La voix humaine,” Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West,” and Verdi’s “Otello.” In other words, a one-woman monodrama and two of the biggest operas in the repertory.
Castleton isn’t announcing casting until December or January, so I can’t yet say who Maazel and Co. have engaged to sing roles that are usually viewed as the apogee of a career. The “Otello” production has a noble pedigree: it’s by Sir Peter Hall and comes from Glyndebourne, where it opened in 2001 as both the company’s and the director’s first-ever attempt at this particular opera. The tenor Neil Shicoff is mentioned as one of this summer’s teaching artists, leading me briefly to speculate that he might be coming in as a ringer for the leading role – but surely not, especially since this punishing, glorious part isn’t quite a fit for him. As for Minnie in “Fanciulla” (aka The Girl of the Golden West) – house favorite Joyce El-Khoury did make a huge splash in “Suor Angelica,” but please tell me she’s not trying this. This is all rank speculation, but that’s all I can offer given Castleton’s extremely sketchy press release.
To amplify the message that Castleton is going very, very big this year (at least in musical scale), the concert programs include Mahler’s 4th and 5th symphonies. And just in case you worried that the festival is abandoning the Broadway focus it started last year with “A Little Night Music,” the concerts also include Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem. (I lack a font to communicate the inner cringe with which I read that piece of information.)
The festival is also seeking submissions from composers under the age of 25 for a work to be performed alongside the Mahler 5th and conducted by Maazel.
It’s not clear that Castleton is finding a formula calculated to attract the funders it needs to continue. In fact, it’s not clear that it has any formula at all. But it’s certainly never dull. Subscription packages go on sale on November 26th on the festival’s website; single tickets will be available in April.