The season, day by dayback to calendar
Fairy tale opera in three acts
Libretto by Adelheid Wette
World premiere: December 23 1893, Hoftheater, Weimar
1st performance of this production October 12 2014
With German and English surtitles. ca. 2hrs 15mins, including one interval
Introductory talk, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin
The events in Humperdinck's opera are not quite the same as the story you learned as a child:
i. Hänsel and Gretel are on their own at home. They are supposed to be working. They are getting hungry, waiting for their mother to make some rice pudding for them with milk from the jug, so start to dance and play to pass the time. Their mother comes home. Her disobedient children make her so cross that she smashes the milk jug and sends them off to collect berries in the woods. Their father comes home after selling some brooms, with lots of food. He reproaches his wife when he hears that the children are in the woods. They set off to find them.
ii. Evening in the wood. Hänsel and Gretel play and gobble up all the berries they collected. They get frightened when it starts to get dark and they realise they are lost. The Sandman appears and sends them to sleep. The children see angels in a dream.
iii. Dawn arrives with the Dew Fairy. Hänsel and Gretel find the witch's house. They begin to eats bits of it. The witch appears, pretending to be friendly; the children don't trust her and are put under a spell. Hänsel is locked up and Gretel must work for the witch. When the witch tells her to check on the oven Gretel pretends to be so stupid that the witch has to show her how to do it and Gretel pushes her inside. The spell over the other lost children is broken. Their parents find them and everyone rejoices.
Danger lurks in the unknown, and people can be very glad if they find their way home again, healthy in body and soul, almost as if nothing had happened at all, like like Hansel and Gretel in this fairy tale. We learn more in Humperdinck's opera than we do in the fairy tale. We are taught about a pact with the devil and the seductive powers of magic cakes. Everything turns out well in both the Grimms' and Humperdinck versions of the story. We do not come in contact with a demonic woman or the ice cold fist of death, but the god of childhood, and angels who put us to bed. The witch, taken out of the oven, baked as a cake, can't hurt anybody now. Keith Warner understood in the most wonderful way how to make children and grown-ups happy.