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Opening of the Castleton Festival

available at Amazon
The Puccini Companion,
ed. W. Weaver and G. Puccini

available at Amazon
G. Puccini, Il Trittico, I. Cotrubas, R. Scotto, M. Horne, T. Gobbi, P. Domingo, London Symphony Orchestra, L. Maazel

Online scores:
Il Tabarro | Suor Angelica | Gianni Schicchi
Lorin Maazel took a risk last summer by inaugurating a summer festival of opera and orchestral music on the grounds of his country house in Rappahannock County, Virginia. The gamble may not have paid off financially, but it seems unlikely that Maazel was really worried about turning a profit. The audience was not at capacity for the second edition's opening gala on Friday night, but scheduling a festival opening on Independence Day weekend was a risk for that very reason. What has paid off is that with the Castleton Festival, Maazel can indeed showcase a significant number of promising young musicians, both singers and instrumentalists, in a series of polished and dramatically effective chamber operas.

To kick off this summer's festival Maazel chose a composer with whom he has a particular affinity, Giacomo Puccini. Maazel's recording of the late trilogy Il Trittico, which headlines this year, remains a classic (re-released very cheaply, but not remastered). As Leonardo Pinzauti wrote in an essay ("Giacomo Puccini's Trittico and the Twentieth Century") in The Puccini Companion, edited by William Weaver, Il Trittico came at an important cusp in world and music history, coinciding with the end of World War I and the precipice of the final dissolution of tonality. Indeed atonal influences can be heard burrowing into Puccini's harmonic style, in the organ grinder's waltz of Il Tabarro (called "a prophecy of Wozzeck" by Fedele d'Amico), shimmering in vibrant colors in Suor Angelica, and underscoring the clever deception in Gianni Schicchi. Pinzauti explored the shift in Puccini's style further:

the sense of crisis that the three little operas represent in Puccini's later life and in the panorama of European music in the first part of this century [is part of a] transition from a confessional theater to a theater that suggested the logical absurdity of the encounter between word and music ... A more or less calculated 'exaggeration' became evident, tending to a sense of detachment, of alienation, between the work of art itself and the emotions of its creator (pp. 229-30).
The musical performance was excellent, as we have come to expect from the operas presented by Maazel, not least because of his confident knowledge of the score, a sure presence at the podium coordinating singers on the stage with the musicians in the pit. The orchestra sounded polished and surprisingly full, given that the limited pit -- actually dug into the ground this year, part of an enlarged and sturdier festival tent -- required a somewhat reduced orchestration (the edition was by Bryan Higgins, with a smaller number of strings and not all of the wind and brass parts). The singers, as one would expect from a young artists program, were heavy on raw talent and variable as far as finished product but overall well cast both musically and dramatically. Standout performances came from the impassioned if slightly uneven Luigi of Noah Stewart, the brooding Michele of Nicholas Pallesen, the rich, vibrato-heavy mezzo of Margaret Gawyrisiak (both La Frugola in Il Tabarro and Zita in Gianni Schicchi. The most rounded, experienced singer on the stage was Corey Crider, whose comic timing, Italian diction, and vocal power were spot-on as Gianni Schicchi. Soprano Tharanga Goonetilleke was featured beautifully in a number of ensembles (as Nella in Schicchi and Suor Osmina in Angelica) but felt underutilized.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Young cast of Puccini's "Il Trittico" makes Castleton Festival worth the trip (Washington Post, July 5)

Tim Smith, Lorin Maazel's Castleton Festival opens with potent Puccini production (Baltimore Sun, July 6)
William Kerley, the festival's resident director, created well-conceived stagings for each work, with minimal but suggestive sets (Nicholas Vaughan) and fluid acting direction that allowed the singers to delineate their characters and work with the drama of each libretto. The updating of Schicchi, set in a modern Italian home with Buoso's famous mule made into a priceless Damien Hirst formaldehyde sculpture, was quirky but did not undermine the story. For some reason, the order of the last two operas was reversed, a decision that moved the dramatic high point of the trilogy, the transcendent Suor Angelica (reportedly Puccini's favorite of the three -- perhaps because of the personal connection that Puccini's sister, Giulia Enrichetta, was a professed nun living in a convent), to the end of a long evening. A delicious dinner served during the two intermissions made for a long night that tested the endurance of some listeners. Joyce El-Khoury, who was a charming Lauretta in Schicchi, stepped in at the last minute to replace an ailing colleague in the title role of Angelica, and Matthew Plenk filled in for Zach Borichevsky as Rinuccio in Schicchi (a substitution that was not announced).

Il Trittico will be repeated, in whole or in part, on July 9, 10, 11, 18, 22, and 24. The other productions in this year's Castleton Festival include two Britten revivals from last year, The Turn of the Screw and The Beggar's Opera, as well as a new double-bill of Stravinsky's Histoire du Soldat and Falla's Master Pedro’s Puppet Show.


jfl said...

"The gamble may not have paid off financially, but it seems unlikely that Maazel was really worried about turning a profit."

Certainly not. That's why he's got a little cash cow on the side.

Charles T. Downey said...

Hee hee, yes, there is that.

Bryan said...

Nice to read a review that mentions the orchestra. Thanks from California.