Of all the holiday musical traditions, one of the oldest, if somewhat unusual, is Engelbert Humperdinck’s operetta, Hansel and Gretel. This beautiful, somewhat scary composition is closely associated with Christmas for two reasons: first, it premiered two days before Christmas in 1893; and second, it was written as an entertainment for children. Although not as important a holiday staple as The Nutcracker, Hansel and Gretel still pops up at Christmas time musical venues around the world.
This operetta was one of the major child-oriented performances pieces, which included The Nutcracker and Babes in Toyland, to emerge at the end of the 19th century. Based on the fairytale as told by the Grimm Brothers, it tells the familiar story of curious children Hansel and Gretel who are nearly cooked and consumed by a cannablistic witch in the Black Forest. Although the story’s theme is somewhat odd for Christmas, its happy ending, not too mention the witch’s gingerbread house, softens it for the holidays.
The operetta’s premier at the German National Theater in Weimar on December 23, 1893 was conducted by Richard Strauss; and its second performance in Hamburg was conducted by Gustav Mahler. It became an overnight sensation, especially the Evening Benediction in Act II, which lives on in popular culture as the common children’s prayer commonly known as Now I lay me down to sleep. It is not often performed at the German National Theater, but when it is, that is the place to see it.
The German National Theater in Weimar is one of the most important musical institutions in Germany, and is associated with such luminaries as Bach, Liszt and (Richard) Strauss. As of the time of this writing there was no information for upcoming performances. Web: www.nationaltheater-weimar.de (official website of the German National Theater).