A Midsummer Night's Dream, Coliseum, London
Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, St John's, Smith Square, London

Shakespeare's romantic comedy becomes almost unrecognisable in this tale of seduction and rejection set in a boys' school

Rolling and sighing, the narcotic strings at the start of A Midsummer Night's Dream are heavy with sleep.

Almost 40 strong, the boys' choir clears the musky air like a breeze from an open window: "Over hill, over dale, thorough bush, thorough briar..." This is the carefree invitation to a place where spells will be cast, hearts broken and mended, lessons learnt. However, for the silent figure gazing up at the walls of the school in Chris-topher Alden's English National Opera production, it is a nightmare.

Few directors try to untangle the knot of idealised love, erotic impulses and grotesque cruelty towards boys in Britten's operas. From Peter Grimes to Death in Venice, the victims are rarely afforded our attention. Now Alden has added to their number. Seduced by Oberon, groomed by Tytania, and drugged on the charms and lullabies of the orchestra there are three in his staging: man, youth and boy. Under Leo Hussain, Britten's score has never sounded more beautiful. But so glacial is the pulse, so incidental the comedy of lovers and mechanicals, that it seems as though nothing matters but ritual seduction and rejection.

Instead of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Alden offers an expanded version of The Turn of the Screw, with Oberon (Iestyn Davies) recast as the Quintish headmaster of a 1970s school, and a catatonic Tytania (Anna Christy) as Miss Jessel. What magic there is is bad. On stage from the outset, Theseus (Paul Whelan) is a former favourite, now recoiling from intimacy with Hippolyta (Catherine Young) and mutely trying to comfort Puck (Jamie Manton). The sprite is a more recent cast-off, his voice broken into the coarse honk of adolescence, his face twisted in envy as his master pursues the Indian Boy.

Smoking is compulsory in this school, the music lesson a violent bacchanale. The stagecraft is stunning, the singing refined and expressive, the designs (Charles Edwards, Sue Wilmington and Adam Silverman) tight and effective. Yet even Sir Willard White's star turn as Bottom fails to make much impact. The (very) Rude Mechanicals barely register as individuals, while the four lovers are similarly diminished. Alden's depiction of the changing relationships between the abused and their abuser dominates everything. He has researched his subject carefully, drawing daring performances from Whelan, Manton and a notably charismatic Davies. But in bolting this crime to Britten's most blameless opera, Alden has framed the Fairy King for offences committed by Quint, Grimes, Claggart and Aschenbach.

This year's Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music criss-crossed the continent from the prosperous ports of the Hanseatic League to Venice. Along with a streak of modish exoticism in the big city music of Handel and Telemann, what emerged from the first few concerts was the exquisite craftsmanship of lesser known composers from the previous generation: Johann Adam Reincken, Dietrich Becker, Christian Ritter, Matthias Weckmann and Georg Böhm.

Gustav Leonhardt's recital, The German Touch, explored the commonalities between them and the audacious talent of the young Bach, whose Air and Variations in the Italian Manner (BWV989) was the earliest of several Italianate works played. There was barely a smudge from Leonhardt's octogenarian hands in Reincken's flamboyant Toccata in G. When he plays, it's not just the music that you hear, but a distinct sensibility.

Reincken reappeared in Mahan Esfahani's performance with The English Concert as the author of a fretful Partita for two violins, viola da gamba and harpsichord. It was an oddly dowdy number in a programme largely focused on the civic splendour of Hamburg, though no odder than Dietrich Becker's sombre Paduana. Telemann's cheerful Concerto Polonaise had pop and punch while Bach's Triple Concerto and a suite of dances from Handel's Almira sped by in a flurry of sensually extended trills from flautist Lisa Beznosiuk.

Philippe Herreweghe's reading of Bach's B-minor Mass with Collegium Vocale Gent was presented as the most intimate yet exalted tapestry of styles and sonorities. Herreweghe is more interested in the grandeur of ideas than the grandeur of sound. His trumpets played like oboes, the textures sheer and clear, the natural horn faultless. I've never seen violinists navigate minute intensifications of bowing with such unanimity, or a soprano soloist sound as content as Dorothee Mields. The choir was perfectly balanced in the four-, five-, six-, seven- and eight-part movements. Underpinning all this bliss was a bass-line with real character and edge.

'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (0871 911 0200) to 30 June

Next Week:

More summer dreams as Anna Picard sees David McVicar's production of Meistersinger at Glyndebourne

Classical Choice

Alina Ibragimova joins Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for Mozart's Violin Concerto in D (K218) and Mahler's Seventh Symphony at Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall (Thu). Elizabeth Watts is the soloist in Les Nuits d'Eté, and Coronation Street's John Savident narrates Mendelssohn'sA Midsummer Night's Dream

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?