Lorin Maazel, country squire and world-renowned maestro, has brought his Castleton Festival very far, very fast. In only its third season, the month-long opera and orchestra conclave out in Virginia’s sylvan Rappahannock County offers a full schedule of programming, with a hardworking orchestra of top conservatory students from around the world and up-and-coming opera talents.
For Thursday’s concert, “Music Inspired by Shakespeare,” at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, dueling “Romeo and Juliet” selections by Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky filled the first half, after which Maazel and his energetic young charges collaborated in a thumbnail dramatic reading of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons, with Mendelssohn’s complete incidental music. The star power of the evening made quibbles seem pointless. But an inadequately set amplification system often rendered many of the actors’ words unintelligible. Mirren and Irons appeared to be enjoying themselves hugely. Irons in particular hammed up his many characters and, though confined to one spot throughout the evening (mainly seated on a stool), gave a physical performance worthy of Jim Carrey.
The festival orchestra’s youthful stamina will be sorely tested as it plows through seven staged works and seven orchestral programs in less than 30 days. Along with students from top U.S. conservatories, the orchestra includes cadres of players from the Qatar Philharmonic and music schools in Turkey and England. With such a mishmash of players and the hectic schedule, it is understandable that the group is not perfectly cohesive. That it sounds as good as it does is a reflection of Maazel’s mastery of his craft.
Now 81, Maazel has a diminished physicality balanced by a much warmer, more human musical approach, though still somewhat calibrated and calculated. In the first iteration of the famous love theme from Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the big tune was almost uninflected, but upon its return, he devoured it with near shameless abandon. Still, Maazel’s musicmaking in the Indian summer of his career is more appealing than it’s ever been.
Battey is a freelance writer.