Hansel And Gretel
A Fairytale in three pictures by ADELHEID WETTE.
Music by ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK.
After a long period of "Sturm und Drang" we have an opera so fresh and
simple, that any child will delight in it! It not only captivates
children and people of simple tastes; but, the most blases must
acknowledge its charms. No thrilling drama, but a simple fairytale,
known in every nursery has achieved this wonder. It is a revelation.
True music finds its way to the hearts, and how wonderfully refreshing
are these simple nursery songs, recalling days of sweet childhood, how
droll and truly realistic are these children in their natural and
naive sauciness! Here is no display of human passions; simply and
clearly the old fairytale goes on, embellished by the masterly way in
which the musician handles the modern orchestra.
The first act represents the miserable little hut of a broom-maker.
Hansel is occupied in binding brooms, Gretel is knitting and singing
old nursery-songs, such as "Susy, dear Susy, what rattles in the
straw." Both children are very hungry, and wait impatiently for the
arrival of their parents. Hansel is particularly bad-tempered, but the
merry and practical Gretel finding some milk in a pot, soon soothes his
ruffled feelings by the promise of a nice rice-pap in the evening.
Forgetting work and hunger, they begin to dance and frolic, until they
roll on the ground together. At this moment their mother enters, and
seeing the children idle, her wrath is kindled, and she rushes at them
with the intention of giving them a sound whipping. Alas instead of
Hansel she strikes the pot and upsets the milk. The mother's vexation
cools and only sorrow remains, but she quickly puts a little basket
into Gretel's hands, and drives the children away, bidding them look
for strawberries in the woods. Then sinking on a chair utterly
exhausted, she falls asleep. She is awakened by her husband, who comes
in singing and very gay. She sees that he has had a drop too much and
is about to reproach him, but the words die on her lips, when she sees
him unfold his treasures, consisting of eggs, bread, butter and coffee.
He tells her that he has been very fortunate at the church-ale
(Kirmes), and bids her prepare supper at once. Alas, the pot is
broken, and the mother relates, that finding the children idle, anger
got the better of her, and the pot was smashed to pieces. He
goodnaturedly laughs at her discomfiture, but his merriment is changed
to grief, when he hears that their children are still in the forest,
perhaps even near the Ilsenstein, where the wicked fairy lives, who
entices children in order to bake and devour them. This thought so
alarms the parents that they rush off, to seek the children in the
The second act is laid near the ill-famed Ilsenstein. Hansel has
filled his basket with strawberries, and Gretel is winding a garland of
red hips, with which Hansel crowns her. He presents her also with a
bunch of wild flowers and playfully does homage to this queen of the
woods. Gretel enjoying the play, pops one berry after another into her
brother's mouth; then they both eat, while listening to the cuckoo.
Before they are aware of it, they have eaten the whole contents of the
basket and observe with terror, that it has grown too dark, either to
look for a fresh supply, or to find their way home. Gretel begins to
weep and to call for her parents, but Hansel, rallying his courage,
takes her in his arms and soothes her, until they both grow sleepy.
The dustman comes, throwing his dust into their eyes, but before their
lids close, they say their evening-prayer; then they fall asleep and
the fourteen guardian-angels, whose protection they invoked, are
seen stepping down the heavenly ladder to guard their sleep.
In the third act the morning dawns. Crystal drops are showered on the
children by the angel of the dew, Gretel opens her eyes first and wakes
her brother with a song. They are still entranced by the beautiful
angel-dream they have had, when suddenly their attention is aroused by
the sight of a little house, made entirely of cake and sugar.
Approaching it on tiptoe, they begin to break off little bits, but a
voice within calls out "Tip tap, tip tap, who raps at my house?" "The
wind, the wind, the heavenly child" they answer continuing to eat and
to laugh nothing daunted. But the door opens softly and out glides the
witch, who quickly throws a rope around Hansel's throat. Urging the
children to enter her house, she tells her name, Rosina sweet-tooth.
The frightened children try to escape, but the fairy raises her staff
and by a magic charm keeps them spellbound. She imprisons Hansel in a
small stable with a lattice-door, and gives him almonds and currants to
eat, then turning to Gretel, who has stood rooted to the spot, she
breaks the charm with a juniper bough, and compels her to enter the
house and make herself useful.
Believing Hansel to be asleep, she turns to the oven, and kindles the
fire, then breaking into wild glee she seizes a broom and rides on it
round the house singing, Gretel all the while observing her keenly.
Tired with her exertions the witch awakes Hansel and bids him
show his finger, at which command Hansel stretches out a small piece of
wood. Seeing him so thin, the witch calls for more food and while she
turns her back, Gretel quickly takes up the juniper bough, and speaking
the formula, disenchants her brother. Meanwhile the witch turning to
the oven, tells Gretel, to creep into it, in order to see, if the
honey-cakes are ready, but the little girl, affecting stupidity begs
her, to show, how she is to get in. The witch impatiently bends
forward and at the same moment Gretel assisted by Hansel, who has
escaped from his prison pushes her into the hot oven and slams the iron
door.--The wicked witch burns to ashes, while the oven cracks and roars
and finally falls to pieces. With astonishment the brother and sister
see a long row of children, from whom the honey-crust has fallen off,
standing stiff and stark. Gretel tenderly caresses one of them, who
opens his eyes and smiles. She now touches them all, and Hansel,
seizing the juniper bough works the charm and recalls them to new life.
The cake-children thank them warmly, and they all proceed to inspect
the treasures of the house, when Hansel hears their parents calling
them. Great is the joy of father and mother at finding their
beloved-ones safe and in the possession of a sweet little house. The
old sorceress is drawn out of the ruins of the oven in form of an
immense honey-cake, whereupon they all thank Heaven for having so
visibly helped and protected them.
Next: Hans Heiling