Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at London Coliseum

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The English National Opera‘s new production of Britten‘s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is certainly not conventional.

Director Christopher Alden has scrapped the dreamy forest in favour of a 1960’s school yard setting – a tad morbid and bizarre. Some of the characters are teachers (Oberon and Tytania) and some are pupils (Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena). The lover’s tiffs from Shakespeare’s original turn to adolescent arguments and teenage romances.

Charles Edward‘s set is strikingly beautiful and imaginative – giant brickwork walls of an urban British boys school, complete with high windows and several floors, it is staggeringly realistic. For me the design was the highlight of the production.

Visually this opera is quite unbelievable. The vast set and at times the sheer quantity of young boys on stage is enough to make you gasp. No-one can deny it is a daring production but I couldn’t help wondering how necessary all this drama is? It is not beneficial to our understanding, confused the already complicated narrative, and made little sense to me.

The large cast dealt with this odd interpretation as best they could. I have never seen so many young children in one opera – at one point when all the boys lined up across the stage I counted nearly 40!

The vocal star of the show was most definitely counter tenor Iestyn Davies as Oberon. He sings this tricky part wonderfully with pitch perfect accuracy and gorgeous tone. I could have listened to him all night. The chorus excelled producing a rich sound and bringing the best out of Britten’s stunning music.

The orchestra worked persistently on Britten’s tricky music, and I thought their rendition evoked all the magic of the Britten’s otherworldly score. Leo Hussain performed well too, conducting with a sensitive understanding of the music. Much of this opera’s music is quiet and hesitant – musical directions that are exhausting to conduct, especially for a three hour production. However, this didn’t seem to trouble Hussain at all and he seemed completely at ease throughout.

A very strange, and yet mesmerising production of Britten’s dazzling opera, go and see it if you like your opera a bit on the wild side.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the London Coliseum until 30 June. Book tickets