Hansel and Gretel go into the forest and find a tasty gingerbread house where an evil witch lives. They escape her plans of eating them and return to their parents.
Once upon a time there was a brother and a sister called Hansel and
Gretel. They were very poor and their parents were struggling to put food on the table. The
children wandered into the woods to look for strawberries. At sunset a sandman sprinkled
sand in their eyes to make them fall asleep. They dreamed of angels.
The dew fairy came in the morning to wake them up by sprinkling dew in their eyes. Suddenly they saw a glorious gingerbread house decorated with cookies, cake and licorice. They were so hungry and couldn’t resist taking a little bite. Soon they were feasting.
An evil witch lived in the house and she was planning on feeding them lots of food and cooking them in the oven for the sole purpose of eating them. The children were clever and the witch ended up in the oven. They ran back to their parent’s house who were overjoyed to see them again.
Opera in 3 acts
Sung in German
About 2 hours + intervals
A cottage at the edge of a forest
The brother and sister Hansel and Gretel are at home without their parents, Peter and Gertrud. They’re poor and very hungry. Gretel tells Hansel that a neighbour has brought them milk to have for dinner. Hansel cannot stop himself and tries to reach it, but Gretel tells him off. To cheer themselves up, they start dancing.
Their mother comes home, furious at seeing her children dancing when they should be working. She
gets a stick to hit them with but accidently spills the milk. She sends them off to pick strawberries in the
forest. All alone she begs God for help and finally falls asleep of exhaustion.
Peter is heard singing on his way home. Back at the house, he kisses Gertrud roughly and it’s obvious that he’s drunk. He tells her that he’s sold lots of brooms and they feast on the food he’s brought. He asks where the children are. Gertrud tells him that they were misbehaving, and she broke a jug of milk. Peter laughs at the story and Gertrud joins in. When she tells him that she sent them off to the forest, Peter suddenly becomes anxious. There is a witch living there. They head off to search for their children.
Prelude "The witch-ride"
The forest at sunset
Hansel and Gretel are playing in the forest. Gretel weaves a crown of flowers while Hansel searches for strawberries. She puts the crown on Hansels head, but he says that boys don’t wear crowns and puts it on her head instead. They hear a cuckoo in the forest and they start eating the strawberries Hansel has picked. Soon the basket is empty. Gretel blames Hansel for eating them all. It’s getting dark and the siblings start to get scared. There is an echo of a voice heard in the forest.
The sandman appears lovingly sprinkling grains of sand in their eyes to make them go to sleep. Hansel and Gretel are sleepy and sing their evening prayer before they fall asleep together.
Fourteen angels come to protect the children as they sleep.
The house of the witch at dawn
The dew fairy sprinkles dew in Hansel and Gretel’s eyes to wake them up. Gretel wakes up first, greets the day and tickles Hansel. She tells him that she dreamed of angels, and Hansel is astonished because he had the same dream.
Suddenly they see a tasty looking gingerbread house with cake, licorice and cookies as windows, roof and walls. They cannot resist taking a little nibble and soon they’re feasting on the delicious house.
The witch who lives in the house notices that someone’s nibbling on it. The children hear the
witch talking but discard it as the sound of the wind. The evil witch suddenly grabs Hansel and Gretel and
tells them that she loves to eat children. She laughs and explains that she will fatten them up with her
food before feasting on them. They try to escape but the witch uses a magic stick to freeze them.
The witch forces Hansel to eat to make him fatter. The witch dances with her broomstick in excitement of the feast ahead.
To find out if Hansel’s eaten enough, she wants to feel his finger. Hansel holds out a twig instead and the witch is very disappointed at how skinny it feels. She continues to feed the children as they try to find a way to escape. The witch wants Gretel to check on the gingerbread in the oven. Gretel pretends to be stupid and asks the witch to demonstrate what it looks like to look into an oven. As the witch reaches forward, Gretel pushes her into the oven. Hansel and Gretel are overjoyed to have survived.
Soon the oven explodes and lots of frozen gingerbread victims appear. Hansel and Gretel touch them to make the children come alive.
Hansel and Gretel’s father is heard calling for them. They run into their parent’s arms, happy to be reunited. The gingerbread victims take the witch out of the oven. The tables have turned and she is now made of gingerbread.
Hänsel – Mezzo-soprano (lyric)
Gretel’s brother, Gertrud’s and Peter’s son
Gretel – Soprano (soubrette)
Hänsel’s sister, Gertrud’s and Peter’s daughter
Peter – Baritone (lyric)
A broom-maker, Hänsel’s and Gretel’s father, Gertrud’s husband
Gertrud – Mezzo-soprano (lyric)
Hänsel’s and Gretel’s mother, Peter’s wife
The Gingerbread Witch – Mezzo-soprano/Contralto/Tenor
An evil witch who eats children
Sandman – Soprano (lyric)
The sleep Fairy
Dewman - Soprano (lyric)
The Dew Fairy
Place of birth: Siegburg, Germany
Place of death: Neustrelitz, Germany
Humperdinck was a German Late Romantic composer most known for his popular opera Hänsel und
Gretel. He started taking piano lessons at an early age and wrote his first composition at the age of seven.
His parents wanted him to study architecture, but Humperdinck continued to pursue a career in music.
He wrote a number of stage works but Hänsel und Gretel is his one-hit wonder. He taught in Barcelona and Frankfurt before settling down in Berlin in 1900 becoming the head of a Meister-Schule of composition. He was greatly influenced by the composition style of Richard Wagner.
He married Hedwig Taxer in 1892. She encouraged Humperdinck to finish the composition of Hänsel und Gretel. According to Humperdinck’s friend Kreuzberg, she was both intellectual and poetic. They had five children of which three lived into the 1990s.
In 1921 he attended a performance of Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz. During the performance he suffered a heart attack and he died in hospital a day later.
To his wife Hedwig: “I’m working on Hänsel und Gretel again… I can hardly resist the temptation to rework the entire composition.”
He was acquainted with Richard Wagner who invited him to Bayreuth to assist in the production of Parsifal in 1880 and 1881. He stayed close friends with the Wagner family throughout his life.
Most prominent operas
The libretto for Hänsel und Gretel was written by Humperdinck’s sister Adelheid Wette, based on the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale Hänsel und Gretel. Wette had asked Humperdinck if he could compose music for some songs she had written for her children to sing at Christmas. The idea grew from there and finally became the full scale opera that we know today. She was also a writer and she worked as a librettist for her brother on two other operas that were only partly finished.
2+1, 2d1, 2d1, 2 - 4, 2, 3, 1
timp, perc, harp, strings
Chorus: SA (children)
Off stage: cuckoo
Hänsel und Gretel was premiered in 1893 in Weimar conducted by Richard Strauss followed by the
premiere in Hamburg a year later conducted by Gustav Mahler. Richard Strauss was convinced that it was a
masterpiece as soon as he had looked through the score. He wrote a letter to Humperdinck praising his opera.
Today Hänsel und Gretel is one of the top 20 most performed operas worldwide.
Duet – Abends will ich schlafen gehn (Gretel, Hansel)
Aria – Wo bin ich? (Gretel)
trio – Knusper, knusper, knäuschen (The Gingerbread Witch, Gretel, Hansel)