Castleton is very anxious to defend its legacy and affirm that it can thrive even without its founder at the helm. “A mini-Glyndebourne,” says Dietlinde, referring to England’s leading summer opera festival, known for picnics on landscaped lawns and top-flight productions. Yet at the same time, Castleton can’t shake its mom-and-pop start-up flavor. Its family feeling is one of its hallmarks: Young artists come to the Maazels’ farm and live for the summer in dorm-like spaces, eating and working together, as if they were on a communal farm. Even the audience is embraced. After difficulties with the caterer last year, Dietlinde, seeing couples roaming the grounds looking for food, simply invited them in for dinner.
In short, for all that Castleton is looking to the future, it’s a little foggy about establishing exactly what it is right now.
Certainly each of its four seasons has had a different character. This is no surprise: Any new festival goes through a process of evolution, particularly one that, like Castleton, happened more or less by accident, as Maazel kept expanding his ideas about what kinds of things he could do with the home theater — seating 110 people — on his 550-acre estate. At the beginning, it featured young artists in Benjamin Britten chamber operas; then, it added a tent for orchestral performances; then it turned the tent into a permanent structure and began producing meat-and-potatoes, standard-repertory opera — Puccini’s “Il trittico” or “La Boheme” — in addition to the offbeat chamber stuff.
At the same time, companies around the world, interested in working with Maazel, began approaching the festival about co-productions; Castleton’s productions and artists have now been seen in California, Italy and China. And those companies weren’t so interested in the unusual fare, such as De Falla’s “Master Pedro’s Puppet Show” or a fully staged performance of Ravel’s masterpiece “L’Enfant et les sortileges”; they wanted standard repertory that sells tickets. This is proving to be a mixed blessing for this year’s festival, which has, as a result of its co-productions, gone entirely mainstream with its opera offerings: Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” and Bizet’s “Carmen.”
Run by a tiny staff, headed by a general manager, the soprano Nancy Gustafson, who has a lot of opera experience but no administrative experience, Castleton this year gives the impression that the tail may be wagging the dog as far as “the vision thing” goes.