Hänsel und Gretel (Hansel and Gretel)
  • Engelbert Humperdinck. Märchenspiel in three acts. 1893.
  • Libretto by Adelheid Wette, after a fairy-tale retold by the Brothers Grimm.
  • First performance at the Hoftheater, Weimar, on 23rd December 1893.
CHARACTERS
Gretel soprano
Hänsel, her brother mezzo-soprano
Gertrud, their mother mezzo-soprano
Peter, their father, a broom-maker baritone
Sandman soprano
Dew Fairy soprano
Dew Fairy mezzo-soprano

Humperdinck’s fairy-tale opera tells the story of the brother and sister, Hänsel and Gretel, children of a poor broom-maker. The children leave their work to play together, until their mother returns, stops their dancing and sends them out to pick strawberries. Their father comes home with food, but both parents are anxious about the children. In the wood they are lost and eat all the berries they have picked, before falling asleep under the benign spell of the Sandman. The Dew Fairy wakens them, and as the mist clears they see a gingerbread house, but their delight is short-lived. The Witch, whose house it is, takes them captive, putting Hänsel in a cage to be fattened up for the table, while Gretel can be eaten at once. When the oven is hot, the children trick the Witch into looking into the oven and push her in. The Witch explodes and gingerbread children, former victims of the Witch, now come to life again. All ends happily when Peter and Gertrud are united again with their children.

Hänsel und Gretel had its origin in musical settings for the children of Humperdinck’s sister, Adelheid Wette. These were later extended into something almost too elaborate for the simple and well-known story. The overture enjoys a concert-hall existence, while Gretel’s folksong Suse, liebe Suse (Suse, dear Suse) and the following dance duet make a particularly charming episode. The Sandman has his moment in Der kleine Sandmann bin ich (The little Sandman am I) with its counterpart for the Dew Fairy, Der kleine Taumann heiss ich (I am called the little Dew Fairy). The Dream Pantomime, in which the children dream of the angels, after meeting the Sandman, is a possible orchestral excerpt for concert use.