Music with Ease > 19th Century German Opera (except Wagner) > Hansel and Gretel - Humperdinck
Hansel and Gretel
(German title: Hänsel und Gretel)
An Opera by Engelbert Humperdinck
A fairy opera in three acts. Music by Engelbert Humperdinck. Book by Adelheid Wette.
The first act represents the hut of a broom-maker. Haensel is binding brooms and Gretel is knitting. The children romp, quarrel, and make up. When their mother, Gentrude, enters she is angry to see them idle, but wishing to strike them, she upsets a pitcher of milk instead. With all hope of supper banished she sends the children out into the woods with little baskets to look for strawberries, while she herself, bemoaning their poverty, sinks exhausted upon a chair and falls asleep. A riotous song announces the approach of her husband, drunk as usual. She is about to utter reproaches when she notices that he has brought sausages, bread and butter, coffee -- enough for a feast. He tells her that he has had good luck at the Kirmes and bids her prepare supper. When he asks for the children he is horrified to hear that they have been sent into the woods, for a wicked fairy lives near the Ilsenstein who entices children to bake them in her oven and devour them. Both parents rush off in search of Haensel and Gretel.
The second act takes place near the Ilsenstein. Haensel has filled his basket with berries and Gretel has made a wreath with which her brother crowns her. Before they realize what they are doing the children eat all the berries. Then they see that it is both too dark to look for any more or to find their way home. Gretel weeps with fear Haensel comforts her. They grow sleepy. The sandman sprinkles sand into their eyes, but before going to sleep the children are careful not to forget their evening prayer. Fourteen guardian angels are seen descending the heavenly ladder to protect them.
Morning comes with the third act. The dew fairy sprinkles dew on the children. Suddenly they notice a little house made of cake and sugar. They start to break off little bits when a voice cries out from within and the witch opens the door. She throws a rope around Haensels throat, urging them both to enter. Frightened, they try to escape, but after binding them with a magic spell she imprisons Haensel in a kennel, she forces Gretel to go into the house.
When she believes Haensel to be asleep she turns her attention to the oven, then rides around the house on her broom-stick. When she alights she orders Haensel to show her his finger. But it is still thin and the witch orders more food for him. While she turns her back, Gretel seizing the juniper bough, speaks the magic words and breaks her brothers enchantment. Then the witch tells Gretel to get into the oven and see if the honey cakes are done. But Gretel pretends to be stupid and asks her to show her how to get in. Together the children push the old witch into the oven and slam the door. The oven soon falls to pieces. The children then see a row of boys and girls standing stiffy against the house. Gretel breaks the spell for them as she had done for Haensel. There is general rejoicing. Gertrude and Peter now appear, the old witch is pulled out of the ruined oven as gigantic honey cake and everyone on the stage joins in a hymn of thanksgiving.