Hansel and Gretel

Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

Laurent Pelly's 2008 Glyndebourne staging of Hänsel and Gretel has seen some action. Initially issued for cinema release, it was revived for this year's festival, relayed to a big screen in Somerset House, London, and has now been brought to the Proms in a semi-staged version directed by Stéphane Marlot. The event also marked the long-anticipated Proms debut of conductor Robin Ticciati.

Pelly's cardboard-city production inexplicably removes all the magic from Humperdinck's fairytale masterpiece, leaving Ticciati and the London Philharmonic to try to put it back. Semi-stagings can work wonderfully, but this one missed the visual and dramatic intensity of the opera house. Only the humorous touches worked, in particular William Dazeley's entrance as the drunken father, staggering through the packed arena before clambering up through the percussion section, or the witch's cottage, a Royal Albert Hall built from junk-food packaging. But one or two belly laughs cannot anchor an entire opera, particularly where the production cuts so squarely, if not deeply, against the grain.

Conversely, where concert performances allow an often welcome focus purely on the music, the preservation here of Pelly's hyperactive stage direction prevented Lydia Teuscher (Gretel) and Alice Coote (Hansel) from making their vocal presence fully felt. When they were allowed to remain still and just sing – for example, in the prayer at the end of the second act – one sensed how much we were missing.

Thankfully, Ticciati again proved himself to be the young wizard of recent legend. He has a wondrous touch in this piece, bringing out not only the light and shade in this often unutterably beautiful score, but all the shades in between. The occasional untidiness aside, his sureness of pacing restored to the experience both the menace and magic that the staging so sorely lacked.

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