Hansel and Gretel, Opera by E. Humperdinck
Engelbert Humperdinck’s magical Hansel and Gretel is a beautiful retelling of the timeless fairytale by the Brothers Grimm. All families read to their children; very few are fortunate enough to have a master composer in their midst. Knowing how Humperdinck’s opera came to life is in itself a story that touches the heart.
Premiered in Weimar, Germany in 1893, Hansel and Gretel began as a simple request to Humperdinck from his sister, Adelheid Wette, to write four songs for the entertainment of her children. From these humble beginnings, Hansel and Gretel became a full scale opera, Wette herself writing the libretto.
Hansel and Gretel are chased out of their house by their mother for failing to finish their chores. Imagine their delight when they come upon a house made out of the most delicious sweets and candies they have ever seen. They are enticed inside by the witch who lives there. Realising that she has set a trap, the children have to use all their wits to escape the witch’s clutches.
Wette’s libretto sees Hansel and Gretel, protected by a host of woodland creatures - the writer’s personal invention -, free all the other children who have been kidnapped by the witch, bringing them back to life from their gingerbread prisons.
Wette’s twist on Hansel and Gretel inspired Humperdinck to create an aural landscape which is original yet tantalisingly familiar, the hallmark of many great works. His synthesis of Wagnerian harmony with his own gift for melody, hauntingly echoing the German folksong tradition, has made his opera one of the most enduring in the repertoire.