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Weill and Ravel at the Castleton Festival

Photo by Nicholas Vaughan
Friday evening, situated in the picturesque mountains west of Washington, D.C., the Castleton Festival offered an impressive double bill of Kurt Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins and Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges in their newly renovated Festival Tent. The Castleton Residency, began in 2006, is now a full-fledged festival with 220 young artists from over twenty countries spending two months together refining their skills on Lorin Maazel and Dietlinde Turban-Maazel's 550-acre farm. This musical menagerie produces performances of the utmost quality and with unhesitating fluency. This focus is undoubtedly cultivated by the lack of frustrating urban distractions and ample practice time awarded to (or inflicted on) the musicians on Castleton Farms, where nearby neighbors blithely brag that there is not a single stoplight in all of Rappahannock County, Va.

The backdrop of Kurt Weill's ballet chanté The Seven Deadly Sins was a giant map of the United States, with lights following the route of Anna I (soprano Kate Mangiameli) and Anna II (dancer Toni Melaas) as they criss-crossed the country experiencing sloth, pride, anger, gluttony, lust, greed, and envy for seven years, all while attempting to earn money to send home to their greedy family to build a house. Castleton Resident Stage Director William Kerley created diverting, simultaneous settings onstage between the Annas on the road and the family in Louisiana, with fat suits and fake tattoos that reinforced the particular sin of the moment. Mother, robustly sung by bass-baritone Tyler Simpson, was particularly memorable in her giant pink night gown and hair curlers. This also compensated for the somewhat less than imaginative, yet concise compositional style of Weill. One wished Mangiameli had as many splendid musical opportunities to shine as Melaas did dancing, as they both worked to create the single persona of Anna. The male quartet comprising the family back home were equally strong as soloists, particularly tenor Tyler Nelson as Father, and as a barbershop quartet singing "gluttons never go to heaven." Presenting this entertaining work over a new Britten production or revival was a smart choice programmatically, even if some in the audience were annoyed and disinclined to clap heartily. Levi Hammer conducted assuredly.

Lorin Maazel led a big orchestra and cast in Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Spells), a work as much seeped in fantasy as the Weill was starkly in over-the-top reality. Due to an onstage fall during rehearsal, the ill-behaved Child taunted by his animate objects, was sung in the pit by Cecelia Hall as planned, yet mimed by Norra Graham Smith on stage. Set in the Child's bedroom on a big wooden platform with colorful wallpaper, and later in a garden, over twenty soloists were able to have their moment onstage. From a clock (Alex DeSocio), a dragonfly (Elizabeth Reiter), caterwauling coital cats (Ricardo Rivera and Jessica Klein), and a children's chorus skillfully spouting word problems and arithmetic, it was fun for all. After much creativity in costuming (Nicholas Vaughan) and orchestration, Ravel's score builds most beautifully in the garden scene where the Child mends the wound of a squirrel he injured. The angry animals and objects soon soften and mend the Child's wound after injuring him, leading him home to his mother (mezzo Margaret Gawrysiak).

Other Reviews:

Terry Ponick, Castleton Festival's classy Weill and Ravel (Washington Times, July 11)
The main shortcoming of the Festival Tent is its lack of hard surfaces from which the sound can reverberate, such as the beautiful wood in the smaller Theatre House on the property. Friday night, singers often sounded distant and easily overpowered by the orchestra, although this was less a problem Saturday night at La Boheme. The impact of versatile soprano Sungji Kim's role as Fire, in which she remarks "I warm the good, but burn the bad," was greatly diminished due to the Tent's less than ideal acoustics. In any case, any weak vocal aspects of the evening, due to the room or not, were made up for by the crack orchestra and innovative stage direction, set, and spare-no-expense costume design. In the end, the full ovation was saved for Maestro Maazel.

This performance will be repeated on Saturday (July 23, 2pm).

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