Squeals of Delight
LA Opera's 'Hansel and Gretel',
enjoyed by MARIA NOCKIN
During the 1890s, when verismo operas with their melodramatic plots were popular in Italy, German audiences were calling for romanticism and operas written by local composers. Early in the decade, a German homemaker and mother named Adelheid Wette wrote a play based on one of the 'Fairy Tales' collected by the Grimm Brothers. She intended it to be performed at a holiday family gathering and she asked her brother, a professor of music, to write four songs to be sung during the performance. The result of this request would eventually become the opera we know as Hänsel und Gretel. Wette's brother was, of course, Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921) who wrote his first and by far most successful opera in response to her request. It would eventually bring him fame and financial independence.
Because she knew her audience, she toned down the more frightening aspects of the tale. She introduced such child-friendly characters as the Sand Man and the Dew Fairy and brought in the chorus of children at the end. Her brother was so enchanted with her work that he chose to make it a fully orchestrated opera in his late romantic musical style.
A scene from Los Angeles Opera's production of Hansel and Gretel. Photo © 2006 Robert Millard
Hänsel und Gretel was always considered a Christmas piece and it received its première at the Court Theatre in Weimar on 23 December 1893. The conductor, Richard Strauss, called it 'a masterwork of the first rank'. Humperdinck was to write a number of other operas, but none of them are regularly performed. He did, however, have a pupil who would become a famous composer: Kurt Weill, who wrote Mahagonny and The Threepenny Opera, among other operas.
Graham Clark as the witch and Lucy Schaufer as Hansel in LA Opera's 'Hansel and Gretel'. Photo © 2006 Robert Millard
Hänsel und Gretel was the first opera heard on the radio. On 6 January 1923, it was broadcast from Covent Garden. A few years later, on 25 December 1931, this work inaugurated the ongoing series of Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts when it was beamed to 190 stations across the United States.
Copyright © 9 December 2006
Maria Nockin, Arizona USA