Hansel und Gretel (2 CD)

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Hansel und Gretel (2 CD)

When Engelbert Humperdinck’s sister Adelheid turned the Grimm brothers’ fairytale of Hänsel und Gretel into a short libretto for her children, she asked her composer-brother to set the words to music. The resulting performance in their family home delighted Humperdinck’s two young nieces and this domestic success soon became a fully-fledged opera destined for the international stage.

The imaginative score expertly encapsulates the life of children, from exuberant dances and witty exchanges to the sweet solemnity of the Evening Prayer. Their journey into the forest is wonderfully captured in the music; as they move further into the ever-threatening woods, the music becomes increasingly opaque, mirroring the darkening of the trees. When the sandman appears, the sinister theme that had heralded his arrival is interrupted, as his harmlessness is revealed, and he leads the children into a peaceful sleep. The menacing theme returns with the arrival of the wicked gingerbread witch; only when the children succeed in stuffing her into her own oven do the exuberant dance-like patterns re-emerge, as Hänsel and Gretel joyfully celebrate their triumph along with the children brought back to life by the broken spell.

Despite its apparent simplicity, Humperdinck’s opera contains a wealth of themes, with a score remarkable for its range of colours and textures, clearly inspired by Wagner. However, these complexities do not overpower the opera: the music retains its fairy-tale charm. This production features celebrated German sopranos Ingeborg Springer and Renate Hoff as the two young children, expertly supported by operatic greats Theo Adam, Gisela Schröter and Peter Schreier.

Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera Hänsel und Gretel has remained a firm favourite in opera houses around the world.

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