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Fairy Story in 3 acts
Texts by Adelheid Wette based on Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm
First performed December 23 1893, Weimar
This production first seen October 12 2014
Sung in German with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 mins before performances begin
Peter, Broom-maker Sebastian Holecek
Gertrud, his wife Claudia Mahnke
Hänsel Bianca Andrew / Judita Nagyová
Gretel Monika Buczkowska / Kateryna Kasper
Witch Susan Bullock
Sandman Karolina Makuła°
Dew Fairy Bianca Tognocchi
°Member of the Opera Studio
Events in Humperdinck's opera are not quite the same as the story you heard as a child: Hänsel and Gretel are alone at home. They're supposed to be working. They get hungry waiting for their mother to make some rice pudding for them, 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 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.
Humperdinck‘s fairy tale opera is a classic at Christmas time. He had such fun working on the story and piano accompaniment for children’s songs that it turned into a full blown opera. Keith Warner’s colourful, full of fantasy and psychologically compact production lets the whole Grimm story play out during the overture in a puppet show, watched by orphaned children, because the siblings are all on their own from the very start. They're sent out into the woods by foster parents, where they experience the small child’s fear of being left alone and starving to death. Childhood is no happy idyll. If you take a closer look it is despair, and even violence, to which many children are exposed today, to an appalling degree. But Hänsel and Gretel are guarded: by the Sandman and Dew Fairy, guardian angels and, of course, music.