Maazel’s widow picks up his artis­tic di­rec­tor ba­ton

The Washington Post Sunday - - MUSIC - BY ANNE MIDGETTE anne.midgette@wash­ The Castle­ton Fes­ti­val of­fers a per­for­mance of opera ex­cerpts on Sun­day and of­fi­cially opens July 3 with “Roméo et Juli­ette” and con­tin­ues with per­for­mances, in­clud­ing the pre­miere of the opera “Scalia/Gins­bur

“So of­ten you say, the widow: she’s hold­ing the es­tate, but what does she know?” says Di­etlinde Tur­ban Maazel. “And I never wanted to be in that po­si­tion.”

Maazel, 57, is sit­ting at a shade-dap­pled ta­ble out­side her Civil War-era domi­cile in Rap­pa­han­nock County, Va., in a blue T-shirt dress that brings out the color of her eyes. Her golden brown hair, tinged with sil­ver, is pulled back. The ef­fect of girl­ish­ness is some­how en­hanced by the light Ger­man ac­cent that soft­ens the edges of her words and flick­ers through in con­ver­sa­tional habits like the quick “ja, ja, ja,” not quite an Amer­i­can “yeah,” that punc­tu­ates her sen­tences.

Maazel has played a num­ber of roles in her life: su­per­star ac­tress, sub­servient wife, home-school­ing mom. Last year, her hus­band of 31 years, the con­duc­tor Lorin Maazel, died of a rare au­toim­mune dis­or­der in the mid­dle of the an­nual Castle­ton Fes­ti­val, a train­ing ground for young con­duc­tors, in­stru­men­tal­ists and singers that he founded and funded with her on their 600-acre Vir­ginia es­tate in 2009. Now Di­etlinde Maazel, the widow, has taken over to run an in­sti­tu­tion that has be­come her hus­band’s legacy.

“The board sud­denly had to step up [to] be­ing quite an ac­tive board,” she says, “be­cause I don’t have those funds any­more. I’ll be lucky if I can just keep all of this afloat.”

‘It got a lit­tle con­fus­ing’

Di­etlinde met Maazel at the Bambi Awards, Ger­many’s an­swer to the Academy Awards, in 1983. For the next three-plus decades, she fol­lowed his vi­sion. “He kept say­ing, ‘Don’t walk away from your ca­reer,’ ” she says, “but I didn’t want [it to be] he is here, I’m there, and the nanny is with the kids some­where else.” Maazel’s vi­sion brought them to Vir­ginia, a state he had vowed to set­tle in when he first saw it as a stu­dent. It led to the con­struc­tion of a small theater in a build­ing that was orig­i­nally a chicken house, where the fam­ily be­gan host­ing per­for­mances by the likes of Mstislav Rostropovich — who in­au­gu­rated the theater in 1997— and Ye­fim Bronf­man, James Galway and, of course, Maazel him­self on vi­o­lin.

And it led to the es­tab­lish­ment of a sum­mer opera fes­ti­val in 2009. It wasn’t long be­fore Maazel erected a tent, and then a per­ma­nent struc­ture, so he could move from cham­ber opera in the home theater to what Di­etlinde calls “the big ten,” in­clud­ing Puc­cini’s “Trit­tico,” “Fan­ci­ulla del West” and “La Bo­hème.”

Di­etlinde played a role in all of this. But to the out­side world, it wasn’t al­ways clear what it was. Nancy Gustafson, the so­prano, was the fes­ti­val’s gen­eral di­rec­tor; Di­etlinde, though a co-founder and a mem­ber of its lead­er­ship team who took on teach­ing and act­ing roles, had no clear ti­tle. “With such a gi­ant per­son­al­ity and leader up­front,” she says, “I was al­ways a lit­tle bit the Ja­panese wife, one step be­hind.” But then Maazel died. “When the cat leaves the house the mice are danc­ing, and that hap­pened a lit­tle bit,” Di­etlinde says. “Ev­ery­body had sort of a dif­fer­ent type of own­er­ship where they wanted [the fes­ti­val] to go, and it got a lit­tle con­fus­ing. And so a core of the board just asked me to take on the lead­er­ship. They said, ‘You can do it, and we want you to be the face of the fes­ti­val and step up.’ I must say when you sud­denly have to, then you can.”

Step­ping up to the plate has been a theme of Di­etlinde Maazel’s life ever since, at age 19, she ac­costed the ac­tor and di­rec­tor Michael De­gen back­stage in a Mu­nich theater, asked him how to go about get­ting a role and ended up get­ting cast as Gretchen in Goethe’s “Faust.” It was the start of a me­te­oric ca­reer that was no­table for its eclec­ti­cism in a coun­try that makes a sharp dis­tinc­tion be­tween high art and en­ter­tain­ment: Di­etlinde ap­peared in plays by Schiller, in fea­ture films, in TV thrillers and on the cov­ers of vir­tu­ally ev­ery TV mag­a­zine and tabloid in the coun­try.

“I could not walk any­where in a depart­ment store,” she says, “with­out peo­ple want­ing an au­to­graph.”

She was only 26 when she met Maazel and walked away from all of it.

“I had done so much so quickly, I felt I didn’t feel I had life to fill it,” she says. “You need a data­base of life and emo­tions in or­der to be a good ac­tor. Oth­er­wise, you kind of re­peat your­self or just ex­te­ri­or­ize it and be­come like a lot of the Hol­ly­wood star­lets, ba­si­cally a pho­tographed model. And that was never my in­ten­tion. I was so hun­gry just to live a lit­tle.”

Her own woman

She wasn’t afraid to stand up to her strong-willed hus­band. She in­sisted on chil­dren, though he, who al­ready had four chil­dren with his first two wives, wasn’t sure. (He proved a de­voted and en­gaged fa­ther to Or­son, Les­lie and Tara.) And she held her own with him in dis­cus­sions about mu­sic. She re­mem­bers an episode dur­ing work on the An­drea Bo­celli al­bum “Sen­ti­mento” (2002), for which he or­ches­trated Tosti songs and played the vi­o­lin him­self.

“It’s a de­li­cious record­ing,” she says, “but it came back, the first draft, from Lon­don, and we lis­tened to it, and I thought, ‘I don’t like that’ be­cause it was done with the pop sound. Bo­celli was to­tally up­front, and the rest was a soup in the back­ground. And he, such a crit­i­cal ear, but he was just, I think, into the mu­sic, and he said, ‘ Isn’t his won­der­ful!’ And I said, ‘No, dar­ling, you’re go­ing to send that right back and they’re go­ing to remix the whole thing, be­cause it’s aw­ful.’ And he got one of his tem­pers, slammed the door and was not to be seen for half a day. The next morn­ing, I heard him get­ting up very early, lis­ten­ing to it again, and then he came to me in the kitchen and he said, ‘ You are damn right. We’re go­ing to send this right back to the draw­ing board.’ ”

She was in part backed up by her own train­ing as a vi­o­lin­ist — some­thing she con­cealed from her hus­band un­til af­ter they were mar­ried. One day when she thought he wasn’t home, she picked up the in­stru­ment again— much to Maazel’s shock; Di­etlinde had at one point ac­tu­ally con­sid­ered a solo ca­reer.

Tak­ing over a strug­gling pri­vate fes­ti­val calls on another skill set. Like another area fes­ti­val, Wolf Trap, in the wake of the 1994 death of its charis­matic pa­tron and founder, Cather­ine Fi­lene Shouse, Castle­ton is rapidly pro­fes­sion­al­iz­ing.

“It be­came ap­par­ent that we had to be­gin a tighter man­ag­ing style,” Di­etlinde says. “When you have the vi­sion­ary and the fun­der in one pack­age, then you can say, ‘Okay, he wants 30 more cho­rus peo­ple, that means 30 more cos­tumes, 30 more peo­ple liv­ing some­where and eat­ing some­where, but he wants that for his sound, and if he pays for that, we just make it hap­pen.’ Now, we’ve be­come much more pro­fes­sional overnight, in that sense. Be­cause there’s much more trans­parency, there’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity be­fore the board, there’s a bud­get that, I’ve brought it down by a mil­lion, we’re now a $2 mil­lion fes­ti­val and not a $3 mil­lion fes­ti­val.”

This is not all a bad thing. The or­ches­tra, true, is smaller this year. But the or­ga­ni­za­tion has im­proved. Fundrais­ing has stepped up; ticket sales are far ahead of where they were last year. Di­etlinde has se­cured the 34-year-old Rafael Pa­yare, a prod­uct of Venezuela’s vaunted El Sis­tema train­ing pro­gram who worked closely with Maazel in the past few fes­ti­vals, as prin­ci­pal con­duc­tor, and fur­ther helped his cause by rec­om­mend­ing that he re­place the late mae­stro at a sched­uled per­for­mance with the Vi­enna Phil­har­monic last Jan­uary. This re­sulted in a tri­umphant de­but and a flood of other in­ter­na­tional in­vi­ta­tions — for­tu­nately, af­ter Pa­yare’s com­mit­ment to Castle­ton was al­ready se­cured.

“I don’t think Mae­stro would have in­vested so much time and energy into this pro­ject, which is very, very good,” if he didn’t think it was im­por­tant, Pa­yare said last month by phone from Swe­den. “I will do what­ever is in my power, not much, but I will con­trib­ute so that he is not for­got­ten.”

Other alumni feel sim­i­larly. The so­prano Joyce El-Khoury has be­come a mem­ber of the Castle­ton board, out of grat­i­tude to the fes­ti­val for its en­er­getic sup­port of her own ca­reer. “I want to help con­tinue Mae­stro’s legacy,” she says.

But both of them, like ev­ery­one else, are just get­ting to know the new Di­etlinde Maazel, who is at once thrilled by the fes­ti­val’s new pro­fes­sion­al­ism and filled with ideas as am­bi­tious and some­times ide­al­is­tic as her late hus­band’s.

“My last dream,” she says, look­ing around the idyl­lic grounds stretch­ing out be­hind her, “would be to turn this into a year-round academy” — some­thing her late hus­band cer­tainly never en­vi­sioned.

As for a re­turn to act­ing: “Well,” she says, smil­ing, “you never know.”

“When the cat leaves the house the mice are danc­ing, and that hap­pened a lit­tle bit. Ev­ery­body had sort of a dif­fer­ent type of own­er­ship where they wanted [the fes­ti­val] to go.”

Di­etlinde Tur­ban Maazel, on what hap­pened af­ter her hus­band’s death


Di­etlinde Tur­banMaazel is de­ter­mined to keep alive the dreams her hus­band had for Castle­ton, a mu­sic fes­ti­val on their farm in the Vir­ginia foothills.

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