Valencia's Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, designed by Santiago Calatrava in 2005, looms over the City of Arts and Sciences like a futuristic spaceship. Its resident opera company has matched its flamboyant surroundings in recent years with a reputation for adventurous programming, and this year is no exception. Choosing to close the season with a tribute to the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death with Benjamin Britten's operatic adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Paul Curran with an eye-catching cast, is a brave move.

Christopher Lowrey (Oberon) and Nadine Sierra (Tytania) © Tato Baeza | Palau de Les Arts
Christopher Lowrey (Oberon) and Nadine Sierra (Tytania)
© Tato Baeza | Palau de Les Arts

Britten's work is big-boned and complex, requiring double the number of lead singers of most operatic works, as well as a troupe of 19 fairies (which surely adds timetabling challenges, considering that they are meant to be school-aged children, as they were here). Add to that the layers of dramatic elements that Shakespeare weaves together, including slapstick comedy, opera-sized romance and an atmosphere of mysticism, and you have a real production challenge on your hands.

Curran's setting of an Athenian ruin has the requisite flexibility to adapt to the dramatic requirements. A circular assemblage of crumbling columns, it is a focal point for the mechanicals, who, clad in high visibility jackets, hard hats and a warden's uniform, form the site's ramshackle maintenance team. It also substitutes cleverly for the woods, with our lost lovers nestling amongst the trunk-like pillars as glowing fairies emerge, or a regal courtroom for Theseus and Hippolyta's gathering in Act III. Curran's clever use of lighting by way of a simple background projection allows him to shift atmosphere and time suggestively without recourse to multiple sets. When the whole circular structure starts to rotate like the Foucault pendulum housed in the science museum next door, we have the dizzying sense of Oberon sending the universe in motion.

Chris Agius Darmanin (Puck) and Christopher Lowrey (Oberon) © Tato Baeza | Palau de Les Arts
Chris Agius Darmanin (Puck) and Christopher Lowrey (Oberon)
© Tato Baeza | Palau de Les Arts

These were powerful portrayals of the title roles. Christopher Lowrey's Oberon is clad in androgynous metallic green and teases out the implicit love interest in Puck, heightening the exotic obscurity inherent in the countertenor role. His still presence made the moment Oberon beats the knave doubly sinister, and there was poetry too, with Lowrey carving the "oxlips" and "eglantine" in "I know a bank" sumptuously with a voice that melted into the otherworldly background of harp and celeste. Nadine Sierra's Tytania, who sported wacky couture topped with a candyfloss bob, was refulgent. Her light, luminous voice rippled through Britten's streams of Baroque-inspired ornamentation, while her love affair with Bottom, by now transformed into a donkey, was pure bliss.

The lovers often come off the worst in Britten's reading, left adrift in Shakespeare's convoluted love web. Here, strong performances turned the story's twists and turns into gripping drama. Dan Kempson's strapping Demetrius contrasted nicely with Mark Milhofer's honey-toned Lysander, while Leah Partridge showed vocal metal as Helena (despite fuzzy delivery of the text) and was well-matched by Nozomi Kato's tigress Hermia. Similarly cultivated characterisation for the mechanicals was enough to bring the house down. Sartorially mal-coordinated at the best of times, their crimes against fashion in Act III's play within a play were grave. Here, careful attention to the farcical elements in Shakespeare's text and slick delivery of the slapstick (crowned by William Ferguson's gloriously over-egged portrayal of Snout cast in the role of 'Wall') had the audience in stitches. Conal Coad's booming Bottom was a faultless piece of buffoonery, equally risible and endearing. Only one feature remained unclear: the mechanicals entered the stage from behind a Union Jack drape – placed affront an Athenian setting on the stage of a Spanish theatre. Was this the moment Scotsman Paul Curran pledged his allegiance to the EU on the eve of Thursday's referendum?

Keith Jameson (Flute) and the Mechanicals © Tato Baeza | Palau de Les Arts
Keith Jameson (Flute) and the Mechanicals
© Tato Baeza | Palau de Les Arts

Roberto Abbado's precise conducting made the score tingle with life. The magical glissandi were full of mystery, the hotbed of musical detail cleanly communicated and the amorous outbursts treated with Italianate ardour. The fairies, too, were a well-drilled troupe. But the way Curran melded such contrasting elements into a polished whole was what made this such slick opera.