Hansel and Gretel (opera)

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Work data
Title: Hansel and Gretel
Performance by the Vienna State Opera in 2015

Performance by the Vienna State Opera in 2015

Shape: Opera in three acts
Original language: German
Music: Engelbert Humperdinck Frankfurt am Main , ca.1891
Libretto : Adelheid bet
Literary source: Brothers Grimm , Hansel and Gretel
Premiere: December 23, 1893
Place of premiere: Weimar Court Theater
Playing time: about 2 hours

Hansel and Gretel is a late romantic opera in three acts that was composed in the early 1890s. The music is by Engelbert Humperdinck , the libretto was written by his sister Adelheid Wette based on the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel from the children's and household tales by the Brothers Grimm . The title of the work by the authors is “Fairy Tale Game in Three Pictures”, Humperdinck called his work a “Children's Parlor Festival” in an ironic allusion to Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal .

Hänsel und Gretel was performed for the first time on December 23, 1893 at the Hoftheater in Weimar under Richard Strauss as conductor . The opera, which has a playing time of around two hours, is now part of the frequently performed repertoire of opera houses and is performed particularly frequently during Advent .


Humperdinck's sister Adelheid Wette planned the fairy tale play as a domestic theater performance. She only asked her brother to set a few verses to music. When these were well received by the family, Wette and Humperdinck decided to make a Singspiel out of it. Eventually Humperdinck's enthusiasm became so great that he composed a full-length opera. Even the premiere was an extraordinary success.


Hansel and Gretel is a thoroughly composed opera in the successor of Richard Wagner , which, however, brings folk song-like music to a large extent. The motif material is designed extremely economically, without being used strictly as a leitmotif in the sense of Wagner.

Many of the themes in Hansel and Gretel are often mistaken for quotes from folk songs . Humperdinck made use of many folk song fragments, but actually only used three folk songs unchanged: Suse, dear Suse, what's rustling in the straw? , A little man stands in the forest and sister, hüt 'you fine! . Many of the other melodies from the opera (e.g. Brother, come dance with me and the evening blessing ) only became folk songs later.

In a letter to Hermann Wette dated December 16, 1891, the composer describes the prelude, which lasts around eight and a half minutes and is occasionally heard in the concert hall, detached from the actual work:

“Last Sunday I also wrote the overture , which has become a fairly extensive piece of music, a kind of symphonic prologue that could be called a“ children's life ”. It begins with the guardian angel chorale , performed by horns , then goes on to the "Hokus pokus", which in turn has to give way to the melody "The angels told us in a dream", which now turns funny "The witchcraft is over" in a happy E. - Major connects. Then the chorale sounds again , which now organically connects with the melody “The angels have it etc.” and ends brilliantly in C major with the triumphant “The hocus-pocus witchcraft is over” . It's a bit noisy in there, but " sunt pueri pueri, pueri puerilia tractant " (children are children once, as children they do childish things) and only the trumpet fits the coarse boy's voice. "

- Engelbert Humperdinck


Hansel and Gretel
Vienna State Opera 2015
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With Clemens Unterreiner (Peter), Janina Baechle (Gertrud), Daniela Sindram (Hansel), Ileana Tonca (Gretel), Michaela Schuster (Die Knusperhexe), Annika Gerhards (Sandman / Taumännchen) and the children of the opera school of the Vienna State Opera.
Director: Adrian Noble , set: Anthony Ward , lighting: Jean Kalman , video: Andrzej Goulding , choreography: Denni Sayers . Conductor: Christian Thielemann

First act: at home

In the poor room of the broom-maker, his children Hansel and Gretel are busy with work. Hunger torments both of them, because for weeks there has been nothing but dry bread. But Gretel reveals that there should be rice porridge in the evening : A neighbor gave them a pot of milk. In exuberant anticipation, the children begin to dance and play. The mother returns home tired and exhausted. In her rage over the two lazy people, she takes up her rod to chastise the children. She pushes the milk pot off the table. Beside herself with anger, she chases Hansel and Gretel into the forest to look for berries, then she falls asleep, lamenting their hard fate, exhausted.

The broom-maker comes home drunk. His business was so good today that he was able to bring a basket full of groceries. When he asks about the children and hears about what has happened, his good mood suddenly turns into concern. It's getting dark already; What if the children get lost in the forest and get into the hands of the crispy witch who lives on the Ilsenstein and attracts children to turn them into gingerbread in her oven and then eat them? Worried, the parents rush into the forest to look for their children.

Second act: In the forest

Orchestra interlude : "The witch's ride "

The children have now been able to fill their basket with berries. The call of the cuckoo sounds. Imitating this, Hansel and Gretel quickly ate the berries themselves. But now it has become too dark to look for new ones. And they can no longer find their way home either. The previously so familiar forest now suddenly looks strange and eerie: will-o'-the-wisps flicker around and clouds of fog open up. The fear is great. Then the sandman appears and calms the two lost ones. Before Hansel and Gretel lie down, they pray their “evening blessing”. Then they fall asleep. Fourteen angels descend to watch the children's sleep.

Third act: the crispy house

Orchestra prelude : "Forest morning in front of the Knusperhaus"

The dew wakes the sleeper. But as if they were still dreaming, suddenly appears in front of them, "glittering in the rays of the rising sun", the crispy house - covered over and over with cake and candy. When Hansel and Gretel nibble on it, the witch comes out and tries to lure them into her little house. But Hansel and Gretel don't trust the old people's friendly words and want to run away. But the witch's wand locks her down. Hansel is locked in a cage and fattened, while Gretel has to set the table inside for the witch. The witch heats the oven; In eager anticipation of "dinner" she rides exuberantly through the air on her broom. Gretel, who has memorized the witch's magic words, manages to secretly free her brother from his cage. When the witch tries to push Gretel into the oven with a ruse, the children push her in themselves. The siblings hug each other cheering. Then the stove collapses with a thunderous thunder. Hansel and Gretel were astonished to see that the cake shell had fallen off the many gingerbread children who stood as a fence around the witch's house. But they still seem lifeless. Only Gretel's gentle touch can open their eyes. And with the witch's wand, Hansel can bring her back to life. The voice of the broom-maker can be heard from the forest, who with his wife has looked everywhere for Hansel and Gretel. The parents can happily embrace their children again. And the witch is pulled out of the ruins of the oven, who has now become a gingerbread herself. Everyone agrees in the Father's way: "When the need arises to the utmost, God, the Lord, reach out to us!"


The line-up consists of seven singers: the father ( baritone ), the mother ( mezzo-soprano ), Hansel (mezzo-soprano, alto or boy- soprano ), Gretel ( soprano or boy soprano ), the crispy witch (mezzo-soprano, soprano or tenor ), the sandman (soprano or Boy soprano), the dewy man (soprano or boy soprano). The two children's roles are written for demanding voices and are therefore usually performed by adult singers - Hansel in a trouser role . The Regensburger Domspatzen, under the direction of Theobald Schrems , have regularly performed the opera with boy's voices since the 1930s and received a great deal of attention for it (including the reopening of the Munich Prinzregententheater in Munich in 1945). A few rare audio recordings from 1933 and 1954 as well as a ZDF television production from 1970 document the high level of training in those years. In the complete recording with the Gürzenich Orchestra under the direction of Heinz Wallberg (1974), two child soloists also sing the title roles. Sand and Dew men, who appear shortly before or after the pause, which is usually inserted after the second act, are also designed as trouser roles and are often played by the same singer, so that the cast is reduced to six people. However, it is precisely these small parts that can be filled with well-trained boys' voices. If you take into account all possible casts, the father may be the only male role or the mother may be the only female role in a performance. There is also a children's choir as “cake children” and a ballet as “fourteen angels”.

The orchestra has a romantic cast:

  • 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes (2nd also English horn), 2 clarinets in A and B, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons
  • 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba
  • Timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, tam-tam, castanets, xylophone, "bell", "cuckoo instrument" (effect flute), thunder machine)
  • harp
  • Strings

The parts for viola, cello, trumpet and xylophone contain audition points .

Reception history

Hansel and Gretel was and is one of the most popular operas in the repertoire, as well as the only one of the better-known operas that is considered an outright children's opera . In addition to the conventional performances, staged according to the instructions laid down by the composer in the piano reduction, there were also interpretations in the sense of psychological fairy tales. Sometimes the part of the witch is sung by the same singer as the mother's. It is also common for the witch to be cast with a tenor, which Humperdinck refused.

In 1997 a production by the British director Nigel Lowery at the Basel Opera caused a sensation. a. the cannibalism of the witch was depicted. In the 2004/2005 season there were two different productions at the Erfurt Theater : a "true to the original" production and a second "only for adults" by director Giancarlo del Monaco , which tells the opera as a story about child abuse.

In 2006, the director Sebastian Hirn relocated the opera at Tollwood in Munich to a huge, monumental mountain landscape on the edge of civilization. He initiated a re-instrumented version by Helga Pogatschar , who created an archaic, rugged sound with folk musical instruments. The production was discussed very controversially because of the drastic sexual relationship.

In 2017, the director Brigitte Fassbaender embedded the opera in her production at the Staatstheater Braunschweig in a video in the prelude and interlude, which moved the plot from the forest to a monumental Hotel Ilsestein. The film by Grigory Shklyar showed scenes with children traveling by train to the hotel in the style of a children's country transport . The witch is portrayed as a transvestite governess who turns out to be an ogre in the slaughterhouse.

In 2017, on December 2, the opera was performed for the 500th time at the Hanover State Opera in a production by Steffen Tiggeler , set and costumes by Walter Gondolf . The conductor of this "festive opera evening" was Marc Albrecht . The premiere of this production took place on October 4, 1964.

Sound carrier (selection)

Record sleeve for the LP Hansel and Gretel (1971)


The composer in dance with Hansel, Gretel and the witch; Silhouette by Otto Böhler

Web links

Commons : Hansel and Gretel  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ House sign : Scheffelstrasse 1, Frankfurt am Main: "Engelbert Humperdinck composed the opera Hansel and Gretel in this house from 1891 to 1892"
  2. Birgit Klubertanz: Hermann Zilcher - detailed biography ( Memento from October 4, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  3. Bernhard Coers: "The fairy tale opera Hansel and Gretel with the Regensburger Domspatzen", in: Christel Erkes (Ed.): The Regensburger Domspatzen. Encounters with Theobald Schrems, Lahr / Schwarzwald 1993, pp. 332–354.
  4. Hansel and Gretel in Erfurt as a pedophile piece , Deutsche Welle from January 6, 2005
  5. Staatstheater Braunschweig (ed.): Hansel and Gretel . Program booklet. 2017.
  6. Andreas Berger: Subtle horror in the Harz Hotel . ( braunschweiger-zeitung.de [accessed on November 6, 2017]).
  7. Bernd Stopka: Hansel and Gretel got lost in the slaughterhouse. In: Online music magazine. Retrieved November 6, 2017 .
  8. ^ Lower Saxony State Theater Hanover GmbH (Ed.): Season 17/18 - State Opera Hanover . 2017, p. 40 (see also monthly program 12/2017) .
  9. a b c d e f g h i j k l Work data on Hansel and Gretel based on the MGG with discography at Operone
  10. Hermes Handlexikon: Operas on records . Selected and commented critically by Karl Löbl and Robert Werba. ECON TaschenbuchVerlag. Page 163. ISBN 3-612-10021-1