Humperdinck – Three Selections from the Opera Hänsel und Gretel

by Max Derrickson

Engelbert Humperdinck
(Born in Siegburg (Rhine Province) on September 1, 1854; died in Neustrelitz, Germany on September 27, 1921)

Three Selections from the Opera Hänsel und Gretel
1. Sandman’s Aria
2. Evening Prayer
3. Dream Pantomime

The story goes that Humperdinck’s sister, Adelhied Wette, asked her brother Engelbert for some incidental music to accompany a children’s puppet play.  The libretto that she had prepared was adapted from the Brothers Grimm’s tale, Hänsel und Gretel.  Being the rather precocious and lofty minded composer that he was, the young Humperdinck was sincerely reluctant to dabble in puppet-tales.  After all, this was someone who had studied with Germany’s greatest opera hero, Richard Wagner, and who’d had the privilege of sitting at his mentor’s side during the final copying of the master’s definitive work, Parsifal.  A children’s puppet suite was not what Humperdinck had imagined his career encompassing,   [. . .]  that he was immediately begged to produce an opera born out of that suite.  And from it, Humperdinck’s signature work, the opera Hänsel und Gretel, was born in 1892.  It captured             [. . .]Gustav Mahler in Berlin.  It was an overnight sensation, and deemed, [. . .].

There’s good reason why Hänsel und Gretel has kept its place in the repertoire, so lyrical are its tunes and so Romantic their orchestration.  Humperdinck’s approach was certainly modeled after Wagner’s, but one could rightly argue that he surpassed his mentor with his own brand of instantly loveable songs, and remarkable gift for [. . .].

The three selections from the opera being performed tonight all come from Act II, before the poor Hansel and Gretel get ensnared by the horrid witch.  But the brother and sister are in some trouble, lost deep in that dark forest, [. . .] Humperdinck’s atmospheric and dreamlike music.  The main theme of this aria is boldly lyrical.  The second selection, Evening Prayer, [. . .]  Opera’s most beloved theme.  Their prayer petitions for 14 guardian angels to keep vigil overnight, and they appear immediately after the children fall asleep, in the third selection, Dream [. . .].