Hänsel und Gretel (Hansel and Gretel)
In their small impoverished house at the edge of the forest, Hansel and Gretel tend to their chores. Hansel is making brooms for their father Peter, a broom-maker, and Gretel knits stockings. While waiting for their parents to return home, the children grow restless and complain that they are hungry. Gretel attempts to distract her brother with a dance (Brüderchen, komm tanz´ mit mir) but their playing is interrupted by the arrival of their mother Gertrude. Angry that the children are shirking their work, Gertrude accidentally knocks over a jug of milk, the only food left in the house. Furious, she chases both children out and sends them into the woods to find wild strawberries. Alone, she expresses her sorrow that she is unable to feed her children, and asks God for help.
A voice is heard in the distance. It is Peter, returning from a fair, where he has sold all of his brooms. He shows Gertrude the food he has bought with the money he earned and they celebrate their good fortune. When Peter asks where the children are, Gertrude tells him that they have gone to the woods. Horrified, he tells her about the Witch who lives there who bakes children into gingerbread. Peter and Gertrude rush off to find the children.
In a forest glade, Gretel makes a wreath of wild flowers as Hansel picks the last of the wild strawberries. They hear a cuckoo calling, and they begin to eat the strawberries. As darkness falls, they realize they cannot refill the basket, and worse, they are lost. Their fears multiply as they imagine wild animals behind every tree. The Sandman comes to calm them and promises them a restful sleep. The children sing their evening prayer and, sinking back on the moss, they fall asleep on the forest floor. Angels descend and stand around the children, guarding them while they sleep.
The Dew Fairy comes to wake the children. As the dew disappears, the children turn around to see that, in place of the trees, a Gingerbread House has magically appeared with rows of gingerbread children forming a fence around it.
As the children begin to eat away at the house, the Witch emerges and places a spell on them, freezing them in place. She leads Hansel off to a cage, where she plans to fatten him up for her supper. She brings Gretel back to life and tells her to set the table. In excitement over her prospective banquet, the Witch jumps on her broomstick and rides around, laughing as she flies (‘Hurr hopp hopp’). Gretel steals the Witch’s wand and breaks the spell on her brother. When the Witch asks Gretel to open the oven door, the girl pretends she does not know how. The Witch bends forward to show her, and the children shove her into the flames. The oven gets hotter and hotter until it explodes. Hansel and Gretel see that all the gingerbread children have become real children, still asleep.
Hansel recites the Witch’s spell and the children spring to life. As Peter and Gertrude rush in and embrace their children, a huge gingerbread cake of the Witch is found in the oven. Before eating, all join in giving thanks for the heaven’s deliverance.
Courtesy of Opera Company of Philadelphia