Fairy tale opera. In perfect time for the festive season, this will be a magical experience for young and old alike.
The real danger of eating candy
Premiere 22 November 2014
13 performances. Runs until 1 February 2015
Performed in Swedish.
We’re staging Humperdinck’s masterpiece for the very first time. And it will be a breath-taking experience. Hänsel und Gretel is a dramatic and tremendously beautiful fairy-tale opera, for adults and brave children.
Hänsel and Gretel's parents are stressed. All the time. The children are mostly left alone, their fantasies and games taking them further and further away from home. Suddenly they’re lost, in the middle of a dark forest. A dew fairy is flying about, a house made of candy appears out of the ground and a witch, who reminds them a lot of someone they know well, is way too kind …
After a significant career, Matilda Paulsson, is now going to meet the Gothenburg audience as Hänsel, while the role of Gretel will be shared between Elisabeth Meyer and Sofie Asplund. You may have seen Sophie before as Maria in West Side Story, performed here in 2011-2012. Susanne Resmark guarantees that the gingerbread-baking Witch is deliciously terrifying. German-born conductor Henrik Schaefer, Musical Director of The Göteborg Opera Orchestra, has grown up hearing this music.
German-born conductor Henrik Schaefer, Musical Director of The Göteborg Opera Orchestra, has been surrounded by this music since childhood. Direction is by Katharina Thoma, who did such wonders with Billy Budd last season.
Sketches by costume designer Irina Bartels
Birthday celebration becomes world's most frequently staged opera for children
When Parsifal was first performed in Bayreuth in 1882, Wagner had at his side an assistant who was to become much talked of. He is even said to have composed a few bars of Parsifal, and his name was Engelbert Humperdinck. Neither he nor his family would have imagined that what was a simple birthday celebration eight years later for his brother-in-law would result in the world's most frequently staged opera for children. Humperdinck's sister Adelheid Wette often wrote scripts and, based on the Brothers Grimm, had written a little Hänsel und Gretel play for her two daughters, for which she asked her brother to compose some songs
"What fresh humour, what exquisite naive melodies, what art and finesse in the treatment of the orchestra" Richard Strauss
Eight- and seven-year-olds Isolde and Gudrun Wette played the title roles at the little birthday performance in Cologne, and it was the recipient Hermann Wette who suggested that it would be possible to go further and create a lyrical drama based on what he had just seen. The project afterwards gained two further supporters, both composers: Hugo Wolf and Richard Strauss. After having staged the work as a lyrical drama with spoken dialogue at a small private theatre in Frankfurt, Humperdinck began increasingly to believe in the project. He created a well-composed opera based on the dialogue and Richard Strauss was very impressed by this version – he even offered to conduct its first production: "What fresh humour, what exquisite naive melodies, what art and finesse in the treatment of the orchestra", was his assessment.
First performance with impediments
The first performance had to be postponed, since Strauss's fiancée Pauline de Ahna, who was to have played the role of Hänsel, broke her leg and had to be replaced by the singer who was to have played the role of Gretel, while Gretel had to be played by a completely inexperienced artist. The copyist did not have time to finish the orchestral material for the extensive overture, which therefore had to be deleted from the first performance. To say the least, circumstances could have been better, but the first performance took place the day before Christmas Eve in 1893, at the Hoftheater in Weimar, with Strauss on the podium. Despite the problems, it was an overwhelming success and even more so two weeks later in Munich, for which the opera had originally been planned. The opera then spread immediately throughout the world and led to Humperdinck suddenly being able to devote himself to composition on a full-time basis. In her libretto, Adelheid Wette has softened the original Brothers Grimm story by having the children go out into the forest to pick berries for dinner, rather than being driven out into the forest to die. In addition, she has also introduced the roles of the father, Sandman (the Sleep Fairy), Dewman (the Dew Fairy) and the children's chorus as a gingerbread fence enchanted by the witch.
The magnificent orchestral witch's flight contains perceptible features of the ride of the Valkyries in Die Walkürie
For Wagnerians still in possession of their inner child
In his score, Humperdinck unites Wagnerian orchestral opera with German folk melodies. However, there are only four authentic German folk songs in the opera: the title roles' introductory "Suse, liebe Suse" (Swe: "Sluta nu att leka"), the father's song in the first act, Gretel's song at the beginning of the second act ("Ein Männlein steht im Walde"/"Där står en liten gubbe") and a horn solo which introduces the third act. The rest he created himself by imitating the style of German folk songs. In the rest of the music, the score is filled with recurrent leitmotifs in the Wagnerian style, and the years in Bayreuth have planted their seed: in the first act, when the mother expresses her feeling that she is tired to death and asks God to send her some help against her miserable poverty, it is played to exactly the same musical strains as Amfortas' suffering in Parsifal. The magnificent orchestral witch's flight contains perceptible features of the ride of the Valkyries in Die Walkürie , and doesn't the witch's tone at times resemble Mime's in Siegfried? The list could continue, so there is certainly something in the statement that Hans och Greta [Eng: Hansel and Gretel] is an opera for full-grown Wagnerians still in possession of their inner child. At the same time, there is a disarming charm and naivety through the folk song characteristics of the music, Wette's immediacy in the libretto and the varied orchestral movement.
Humperdinck became world-famous overnight. He wrote more operas, always with a folk-tale motif, but also orchestral works and music for the theatre. In 1910, his folk-tale opera Königskinder (Eng: The King's Children) had its first performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. On the whole, Humperdinck became more highly esteemed outside his homeland, where nothing he did afterwards could equal the work that gave him his breakthrough, Hänsel und Gretel. Still today, this work is staged throughout the world and is part of the repertoires of many opera houses, perhaps most of all when there is a desire to put on special productions for children around Christmas.