Hänsel und Gretel

Fairytale play in three tableaus (1893)

Music by

Engelbert Humperdinck

Text by

Adelheid Wette
according to the fairy tale by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Who isn’t familiar with the fairy tale of the children who lose themselves in the forest, only to discover the gingerbread house of a witch who wants to eat them, cannibal-style? In Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera version of the tale, the scene is set with the oppressive everyday reality of a family living on the breadline. The children of the poor broom-maker have spent the day playing and larking about rather than helping with the household chores, even accidentally wasting the only food that their mother can provide. She therefore sends Hänsel and Gretel out to pick berries in the forest.

There, the siblings not only come across good-natured creatures, such as the Sandman, but they also meet the Witch of Ilsenstein, who lures them into her cottage which is chock-full of tasty treats... Thanks to Humperdinck’s imaginative arrangement of innocent childlike melodies, his evocation of the magical romance of nature, his poetic musical score, and great symphonic swells, familiar to us from Richard Wagner’s music dramas, »Hänsel und Gretel« assured Wagner’s former colleague his breakthrough as an operatic composer. He turned the original »Nursery Dedicatory Festival Drama«, written by his sister Adelheid Wette, into a humorous tale which addresses the fears and fantasies of both adults and children with a great feeling for poetry, while its compositional depth ultimately outgrows the initial framework of a simple children’s opera.




Hansel and Gretel are alone at home and are supposed to be working, but they try to drive away their hunger by dancing. In her anger, their mother knocks the milk pot to the floor. She punishes the children by sending them off into the forest to collect berries. Father has had a good day selling brooms and brings home food. But the children are already in the forest, where a wicked witch is up to no good. The parents hurry into the forest to find the children.

Hansel and Gretel collect flowers and berries. But it is already getting dark and they can’t find their way back home. After encountering several frightening figures, the Sandman appears. They fall asleep and have a wonderful dream.

The Dew Fairy wakes the children the next morning and they remember the same dream. A gingerbread house entices them into the hands of the gingerbread witch, who has already baked many children into gingerbread and eaten them. She hopes to fatten up Hansel and to stick both into the oven. She joyfully goes off on a witch’s ride.
Hansel warns Gretel of the witch’s plan. She thererupon feigns ignorance. When the witch shows Gretel what is to be done at the oven, she is tossed into the fire by the children. The flames surge up and the oven explodes. The voices of many children can be heard emerging from the baked gingerbread and they are freed by Hansel and Gretel. In great jubilation, the father and mother finally find their children.

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