Day 2 of our Advent Calendar highlights some festive magic from Engelbert Humperdinck. No, not that one!
There is nothing in the actual story that in any way references Christmas, and yet Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel certainly comes into its own during the festive season. Perfect for the entire family (though it is not without its darker moments), it is an opera that, in some ways at least, is both a fairytale and a pantomime. Booing the Witch at the curtain call is something of a tradition, and makes far more sense than doing the same to Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, which suggests the character can simply be dismissed as a pantomime villain. Hänsel und Gretel is not a religious work, but it is impossible not to feel uplifted by the joyousness of the Finale when virtue has triumphed, and herein lies the brilliance of the piece. It may ultimately be light-hearted, but it provides good quality fun because the music is so very accomplished. I love the Father’s cries of ‘Ra-la-la-la’, every parent can do ‘Mit den Füßen tapp tapp tapp’ with their children, while the ‘Traumpantomime’ that concludes Act II is simply magical. Most divine of all, however, may well be the ‘Abendsegen’ that directly precedes it.