Opera Scotland

Hansel and Gretel Hänsel und Gretel

Music
Engelbert Humperdinck (born Siegburg, 1 September 1854; died Neustrelitz, 27 September 1921)

Text
Adelheid Wette.

Source
Tale in Kinder- und Hausmärchen (1812-14) by Brothers Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm.

Premières
First performance: Weimar (Hoftheater), 23 December 1893.
First UK performance: London (Daly’s Theatre), 26 December 1894.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Royalty Theatre), 24 April 1895.
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 20 June 1978.

Background
Hansel and Gretel was an immediate international success, and has gained a secure place as one of a small group of operas deemed to be suitable for children, while still being equally enjoyed by adults. The music is immediately accessible and tuneful, while using a large orchestra and having a Wagnerian sweep to it. This is perhaps not surprising given that the composer had been Wagner’s assistant during the preparation of Parsifal a decade earlier, and was entrusted with the composition of a few pages to cover over lengthy scene changes at the first performances. His later operas never came near to equalling the success of Hansel, though some had a brief vogue. In recent years it has become fashionable for directors to emphasise the poverty and misery of the family’s situation. The potential sentimentality of the angelic choruses can be leavened by showing them as starving, even dead, children. A potentially abusive relationship between mother and children can work, and an ENO production by David Pountney even had Mother and the Witch doubled by the same singer, and, since that was the wonderfully dramatic Pauline Tinsley, the result was quite scary for the adults in the audience. By contrast, there is an alternative interpretation which plays the witch as a tenor in drag, panto-style. It is a sign of the fundamental strength of the opera that it has been shown to survive a wide range of such interpretations.

Characters
Gretel (soprano)
Hansel, her brother (mezzo-soprano)
Gertrude, their mother (mezzo-soprano)
Peter, their father (baritone)
Sandman (soprano)
Dew Fairy (soprano)
Witch (mezzo-soprano or tenor)

Plot Summary
In their poverty-stricken house, Hansel and Gretel play with enthusiasm, neglecting the chores their mother has allotted to them. When she returns, she is furious, and in her attack on them smashes the jug of milk which was intended for supper. She sends them to gather strawberries in the forest, and awaits the arrival of her drunken husband. However he has had a good day at market and has brought plenty of food. They rush to the woods, worried that their children may come to harm at the hands of the local witch. The children have gathered plenty of berries, but they eat them, then say their prayers and fall asleep, protected by a choir of guardian angels. In the morning they are captured by the witch, who uses a spell to tie Hansel up for fattening. Gretel is eventually able to turn the tables by using the same technique, and the witch is pushed into her own oven. Gretel then frees the other children who had been previously captured.

The Cast

Dew Fairy
 
Gertrude
 mother of Hansel and Gretel
Gretel
 
Hansel
 
Peter
 a broom maker and father of Hansel and Gretel
Sandman
 
Witch
 

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