by Daniel Hathaway
There are paradoxes aplenty in Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel — beyond the idea of an edible house. It’s a folk tale with roots in the dark days of the Plague years in medieval Europe collected by the Brothers Grimm but sanitized into a children’s story by the composer’s sister, Adelheid Wette, who wrote the libretto.
It’s a simple tale, but one that was set to complex and sophisticated music by a disciple of Wagner who adopted the technique of Leitmotiv to subliminally suggest characters and themes. The score interested Richard Strauss to the point that he agreed to conduct its premiere in 1893.
It’s a vocally demanding work that calls for experienced singers, but it’s frequently mounted by university and conservatory opera departments who have a bumper crop of women’s voices to cast (Hansel is routinely performed as a trouser role). It calls for a large orchestra — which can cause balance problems against younger singers. [Read more…]