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The Castleton Festival
Expressive zing: Metlova as Carmen at Castleton
© Leslie Maazel 2012
The Castleton Festival, held on acreage of Lorin Maazel’s expansive estate amid the serene beauty of Virginia’s Rappahannock County, spent its first few years exploring operas by Falla, Ravel, Weill and Britten, with some Puccini standards gradually added to the mix. For its fourth season, the festival went all mainstream with Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Carmen. The latter, performed in the opéra-comique version, with dialogue, was updated by William Kerley, Castleton’s resident stage director, to the Spanish Civil War. The era was neatly evoked by Thomas Rogers’s costumes and sets, especially in the last act, with bullet-ridden flags festooning a street curving around the back of the arena.
On July 4, Ekaterina Metlova gave a confident portrayal of Carmen. Emerging from the factory in a sexy version of a Rosie the Riveter outfit, the mezzo didn’t push the sultry stuff too hard. She revealed a big, sometimes unruly voice with an attractively smoky timbre, and, after a bout of droopy intonation early on, she maintained impressive technical sureness to match her expressive zing. As Don José, Richard Troxell sang and acted with no end of passionate conviction, but tonal subtlety was in shorter supply. The tenor did his most sensitive and dynamically varied singing in Act III; he then essentially shouted his way through Act IV. Corey Crider, as Escamillo, had the easy swagger of a seasoned mobster (which is how he was attired when he arrived at Lillas Pastia’s, accompanied by two bodyguards). The baritone lost firmness in the top register but otherwise sang with robust tone and animated phrasing. Sasha Djihanian-Archambault was an endearing Micaela, with a colorful, flexible voice capable of great tenderness, as well as penetrating power.
Nora Graham-Smith (Mercédès), Darik Knutsen (Dancaïre), Dominic Armstrong (Remendado) and, particularly, Rebecca Nathanson (Frasquita) offered vivid support. A crackly high note aside, Michael Anthony McGee sang surely and dynamically as Moralès. Christopher Besch, as Zuniga, sounded constricted. The chorus did not seem fully settled into the music, lending a collegiate-level air to the proceedings. The children’s chorus, though, shone quite brightly and handled some unusually hectic stage business nicely.
For those tolerant of his individualistic approaches to tempo, Maazel’s conducting proved very rewarding. The Gypsy song, for example, began at an extremely slow speed that gave the flutes room to produce some very sexy phrases and made the eventual accelerando all the more striking. A spaciously paced toreador song and generous rubato for Micaela’s music were among other distinctive touches in a performance also notable for the conductor’s attention throughout to nuances of dynamics and instrumental coloring. A few brief slips aside, the orchestra of young players maintained exceptional technical poise and expressive fervor.
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