PRESENTS. Hansel and Gretel. Hansel and Gretel. Teacher Study Guide.
Metropolitan Opera Guild. Education Department. 70 Lincoln Center Plaza. New
Hansel and Gretel Teacher Study Guide Metropolitan Opera Guild Education Department 70 Lincoln Center Plaza New York, NY 10023 www.operaed.org
Hansel and Gretel Production Information Music:
Hansel: Gretel: The Witch: Mother (Gertrude): Father (Peter):
Alice Coote Christine Schäfer Philip Langridge Rosalind Plowright Alan Held
Conductor: Production: Set Designer: Costume Designer: Lighting Designer: Choreographer:
Vladimir Jurowski Richard Jones John Macfarlane John Macfarlane Jennifer Tipton Linda Dobell
Special Thanks: Lou Barrella, William C. Bassell, Jonathan Dzik, Zeke Hecker, Mike Minard Created by: Elise Figa and Allison Kieckhefer (212-769-7024)
TABLE OF CONTENTS CONTENTS Production Information
What is Opera, Anyway? A Not-so-brief History of Opera Music and Production Who Does What at The Met: The Basics of Opera Production
4-15 5-10 11-15
The Composer: Engelbert Humperdinck
Background Legends and Fairytales Wagner’s Influence The Making of Hansel and Gretel
17-20 17 17-18 19-20
Meet the Characters
The Story of Hansel and Gretel
The Music of Hansel and Gretel
The Production Process at The Metropolitan Opera Rehearsal Etiquette Who to Watch When to Watch
28-34 29 30-33 34
Activities To Introduce Students to Opera To Introduce Students to Hansel and Gretel To Introduce Students to the Production Process Research Ideas
35-51 36-37 38-45 46-50 51
Resources Using Hansel and Gretel to Teach Humanities by Zeke Hecker Using Hansel and Gretel to Teach Music by Jonathan Dzik OPERA NEWS Article: “Too Grimm for Words” by Steven R. Cerf, December 1996 Metropolitan Opera Facts Glossary and Definitions
59-64 65-69 70-71 72-74
WHAT IS OPERA ANYWAY?
A NOTNOT-SOSO-BRIEF HISTORY OF OPERA AND ITS PRODUCTION Opera, unlike almost all other art forms, was invented. It all started around 1600, when a group of men in Florence decided to revive the ancient Greek tradition of performing plays by singing every word. The culprits were the Florentine Camerata. In 1600, the word of the day was polyphony: popular composers mastered difficult, mathematical rules that allowed them to layer many melodic lines on top of each other, producing new and increasingly striking harmonies. Then, suddenly, Camerata composers like Peri, Corsi, Caccini and Monteverdi starting writing music that was just the opposite– one singer singing one melody with minimal instrumental support— monody. Instead of using many overlapping voices to explain moments of extreme emotion, Camerata composers displayed all that feeling with only one voice– the aria was born. But monody was useful for a second, more radical purpose: to connect the arias, by having singers sing speech-like rhythms to move the plot along or convey dialogue. When they combined this new discovery, recitative with the arias Front Page of Le they already invented, opera was ready to roll. Nuove Musiche, the first book to introduce monody
Man is the measure of all things The invention of opera was the perfect capstone to the musical Renaissance period. During this time, many musicians reading Greek texts for inspiration focused on Plato’s doctrine of ethos– the idea that music does not merely depict emotions but can arouse them. According to this doctrine, music had the potential to be more than just a tribute to God – the right music could alter men’s feelings and actions. Some people worried that the doctrine of ethos only worked when the music was perfectly aligned with the words. Therefore, a madrigal, in which active polyphony meant that the words could not easily be distinguished, did not have the same potential to change someone’s emotions. Many of these critics were members of the Florentine Camerata, and they believed that monody was the answer. Monody not only allowed the music to transform the listener, but it also asserted the humanist values of the day– that one voice alone has the power to make real change. Many early opera writers underscored this point by choosing the myth of Orpheus, both showing and telling the audience the power of the solo voice.
The late Baroque gets serious Many of the world’s first operas were part of a genre called opera seria: starring gods and heroes dressed in elaborate costumes singing in front of state-of-the-art backdrops painted to look like 3D landscapes (trompe l’oeil). Although opera seria echoes Greek drama in its subject matter, setting, and unity of time and place, opera seria writers were innovators too, frequently insisting on the importance of Christian justice and forgiveness. In fact, many opera serias conclude with a happy ending. These distinctly Baroque adaptations were made for the aristocratic A Baroque opera house in Switzerland audiences, who took the moral lessons in opera very seriously. In Italian opera seria, these orderly endings had to be achieved by the human characters, without the intervention of gods– providing an idealized model for rulers to follow. A spoonful of sugar made the medicine go down: these operas were an entertaining way to remind oneself of the responsibility of leadership. The attempts at tidiness in the libretto, as well as the often formulaic nature of the music, caused many later opera writers to disregard opera seria as outmoded or inflexible. It’s a hit! Opera boomed in popularity– 35 opera houses were built in the twenty years after its invention– and the production teams didn’t have time to (or care to) keep up. Creating an “ideal world” is expensive– trompe l’oiel sets with multiple-point perspective, lavish costumes, complex stage machinery and even blocking were reused from production to production. An opera set in ancient Rome would look exactly the same as an opera set in England. The music was also interchangeable! Singers were allowed to substitute arias from other operas at any point so long as the central emotion remained the same.
An example of Baroque costume
Opera seria is less frequently performed today not only because it is regarded as stiff and overly formal but because the music itself requires specialized singers. Male opera seria heroes sing what is for us unusually high. In their day, these roles were sung by castrati: men who had been castrated before puberty in order to preserve their high voices. Castrati were the best-trained and most popular singers in the opera seria world. Castrati became the first opera stars– commanding astronomical fees and enticing throngs of female admirers.
Pretension Police! Classical composers develop opera for the people By the end of the 18th century, things weren’t looking good for European aristocrats. Revolutionary rumblings were spreading through the French middle class, and England already felt the blow of the American Revolution. Forwardthinking Enlightenment composers changed with the times, writing operas for the increasingly literate middle class. Some, like composer C.W. Gluck and his librettist Calzabigi, tried to do so by stripping away the excess of opera seria to form a more direct, personal message: reform opera. Other composers championed an existing alternative to opera seria: opera buffa, or comic opera. Some librettists, like da Ponte, used dramas A portrait of Christoph Gluck with revolutionary political messages to create their opera buffa libretti, like the anti-aristocratic Le Nozze di Figaro. To make opera more accessible, composers sometimes wrote opera in the country’s vernacular or included spoken dialogue in a singspiel or opera comique (German or French operas, respectively, which include spoken dialogue). Some writers turned opera into something new altogether– the ballad opera– a comic play with musical interludes set to popular tunes sung by the actors themselves, the predecessor of American musical theatre. Out with the old, in with the new The same reforms which brought opera seria down to size influenced production: gods no longer needed to be hoisted in with cranes, and heroes did not need to don expensive-looking armor. Audiences wanted a show to be realistic. Many sets portrayed the insides of houses and the outdoors, while costumes began to draw from contemporary as well as historical dress. Even French opera houses, the last stronghold of frilly aristocratic opera, began to strip down their style when Gluck’s reform operas became popular in France. Bel Canto sets off vocal fireworks Even though the composition of opera seria waned after 1800, composers in the Romantic period were still interested in ornate, beautiful singing– sometimes at the expense of dramatic plots. Italian composers like Donizetti, Bellini, and Rossini invented a new elaborate, lyric style called bel canto. Like opera seria arias, bel canto arias usually followed a predictable formula- a smooth, sustained cantabile section followed by a bravura section where the singer got a chance to show off. The Romantic era put a premium on personal artistic expression– singers were allowed and even expected to improvise ornaments onstage.
Under pressure Each bel canto opera may seem as if it took forever to write, but many bel canto operas were actually written in less than a month. Each Italian city-state supported several opera houses, and each wanted to outdo its neighboring provinces. Every season, an opera house would employ a resident composer, who was expected to rapidly write operas custom tailored to the demands of both the house’s impresario and the individual singers. Sometimes, composers were forced to change huge aspects of their work with very little notice. When the impresario of the Teatro Argentino in Rome told Rossini that he did not like the original overture to Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Rossini simply swapped in another overture that he had already written– which has become some of the most beloved music of the entire opera. Viva VERDI! Composer Giuseppe Verdi wrote highly inventive, impressively tuneful, and intensely dramatic operas which are some of the most frequently performed today. But even Verdi didn’t come out of nowhere– many of the themes expressed in his operas are great examples of late Romantic ideology. His works explore the deep tension between individual needs and duty to society, perhaps the most important conflict for artists in the 19th century. His involvement in the Italian Risorgimento– the unification of individual city-states into one nation– reflects a resurgence of nationalism all over Europe. During the Romantic period, Russian, Czech, Hungarian, and many other nations’ musical styles really came into their own when composers like Mussorgsky, Janacek and Dvorak wrote operas culling from the rich folk musical traditions of their respective countries. Lions and Tigers and Bears: On stage? Verdi often wrote in a style called grand opera, a term which has as much to do with how opera looks as how it sounds. Grand opera came from France, where opera productions were the Hollywood blockbusters of their day. Opera-goers craved novelty, seeking increasingly heart-wrenching plotlines, complex stage illusions and inventive orchestration. Productions worked with huge budgets and attracted massive crowds. The “super-sizing” of opera’s production demanded some re-organization backstage. The previously subordinate role of the stage director (then called the metteur en scene) took on much more importance, as they had to control the vast numbers of singers with small parts, A production of Aida chorus members, supernumeraries, and animals who flooded the stage; to ensure that performers knew how to respond correctly to special effects; and to see that principals were not lost in the huge new sets.
It’s not over until the fat lady sings Richard Wagner changed everything. Though he was Verdi’s exact contemporary during the late Romantic period— both composing from about 1845-85— they wrote in very different styles. Wagner wrote operas with continuously shifting music– no distinctions between aria and recitative– where the voice is just one thread in the complex musical fabric. Like many German Romantic composers, Wagner made full use of the expanded orchestra to create a complex chromatic atmosphere full of strange and unexpected chords– sometimes beautiful and sometimes upsetting. In order to keep listeners from getting lost during his extremely long operas, Wagner associated short musical fragments with characters or ideas, and strung these pieces together to help tell the story. This invention– the leitmotif– changed opera forever. Gesamtkunst-what? Wagner isn’t just famous for his epic operas; he introduced a theory called gesamtkunstwerk, or “total art work.” He wanted people who saw his operas to enter a fully realized artistic dream world– and he did it all himself. It started when Wagner traveled to Bayreuth, Bavaria to look at a possible opera house in which to perform his famous Ring Cycle. Dissatisfied with the existing options, he made plans for a completely new opera house for Bayreuth, The orchestra plays in a covered pit at the Festpeilhaus the Festspeilhaus, which continues to produce his work to this day. Wagner wrote all his own libretti and supervised the construction of his sets and costumes. He even designed his own curtain which could be pulled back instead of up, to further invite the audience to enter his magical world. As if that wasn’t enough, Wagner invented his own tuba to play notes that no instrument in the orchestra could reach. Torchbearers: Strauss & Puccini The works of Wagner and Verdi are sometimes celebrated as the most supreme accomplishments of composition possible in opera – how could anyone attempt to write opera after such titans? Yet two bold, inspired composers of the late 19th century decided to see what else could be done with the art form. Richard Strauss followed Wagner in the celebrated German tradition, creating operas that featured huge orchestras, adventurous harmonies, and libretti that were scandalous or intellectual—or both. In Italy, Giacomo Puccini picked up where Verdi left off, composing operas that featured gorgeous melodies, strong characterizations, and crowd-pleasing, action-packed plots. True dat: Verismo! In the 1890s, an operatic style called verismo arose from a growing trend towards stark realism in French painting and literature. Artists became increasingly interested in the strenuous lives of the middle or lower-class, attempting to recreate their struggles accurately and objectively. The Italians 9
caught on, writing plays depicting the local customs and dialect of unsophisticated characters without sentimentality. Soon, composers began to use these literary models as material for new verismo operas– the first being Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. The music of verismo opera is as forthright as the libretto: direct and dramatic, uninterested in showoff-y arias. Puccini often wouldn’t write overtures, because he felt that they were an unnatural ornament. Thinking outside the box In the early twentieth century, opera’s production was the subject of visual art’s trend toward abstraction. Recoiling from the realism of war and the colossal death count it wrought upon Europe, many operas chose minimal sets to evoke rather than connote settings. Booming post-modern literary theory encouraged designers to treat operas as ahistorical works, often updating or removing elements which fixed a production to a previous time or specific place. You can teach an old dog new tricks Through the second half of the twentieth century, opera proved that it could stretch to encompass rapidly shifting cultural values and expanding definitions of music itself. Schöenberg and Berg adapted their twelve-tone compositional rules to opera with surprisingly popular results; Berg’s Wozzeck is a staple of the modern canon. The multiculturalism which has become a hallmark of twentieth-century life has had its stamp on opera– notably with Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, bringing popular and pervasive jazz and blues sounds to the opera stage. Tan Dun’s The First Emperor, which premiered at the Met in December 2006, was a muchanticipated union of conventional Chinese opera and folk song and the Western operatic tradition. Who knows what the rest of the twenty-first century will bring!
WHO DOES WHAT AT THE METROPOLITAN OPERA Far more goes into an opera than what you see on stage during a performance. Hundreds of singers, musicians, dancers, actors, designers, stagehands and many other Met employees work incredibly hard to prepare for an opera– sometimes, many years in advance. One of the exciting things about attending a Director’s Rehearsal is that you can see all of the people that are usually behind-the-scenes doing their jobs right in front of your eyes.
The conductor The conductor is the music director of an opera; he or she has the last word on all musical decisions. One of the biggest decisions is the speed of the music, or tempo, which he or she conveys to the orchestra by keeping time with a baton or hand (though the baton tells the orchestra other things, too). The conductor also determines the balance of the music– which parts to emphasize and bring out. No matter what musical interpretations the conductor makes, he or she must be sure to keep the orchestra and singers together and to ensure that the singers can be heard above the orchestra. According to James Levine, the true job of the conductor is to “get the music’s character right. You never hear of composers complaining about inadequate technical execution, or that the horns were cracking or the wind chords weren’t together. What you hear composers complaining about is falsification of what they’ve written, a misunderstanding of the point, the spirit, the… substance of the piece, of what it is all about.”
The stage director The stage director is sometimes called the producer in opera, but they are more like the director of a play or movie than a theatrical producer. Just as the conductor makes musical decisions, the stage director has the final word on all theatrical choices. First, the stage director decides the over-all concept for a production. Then he or she works with a design team of the set designer, costume designer, choreographer, and lighting designer to create images and moods that convey their interpretation of the opera to the audience visually. He or she also collaborates with the conductor to make sure that the music and the staged show complement each other and create a unified performance. The director helps singers develop their characters and express them in keeping with the spirit of the production. Since one director cannot assist many characters at once and because rehearsal time is very short, the stage director is aided by several assistant stage directors, who stand on stage and literally walk characters through their movements in rehearsals.
The technical director The designers, who are all hired to work on a single production, answer to a permanent member of The Met’s staff– the technical director, currently Joseph Clark. The technical director oversees the physical side of design. He or she makes sure that the designs that artists submit are brought into reality– that the sets are compact enough to be stored, light in weight enough to be changed quickly, and strong enough to support themselves. Once the technical director gives approval, The Met’s resident, unionized carpenters, painters, set and prop makers, costume shop staff, and wigmakers construct everything that goes onstage in a given production. New productions at The Met are designed to last for twenty years… the technical director makes sure that they will.
Principal singers An opera singer’s work begins long before he or she is hired by The Met. For their voices to be able to fill enormous spaces without amplification, opera singers must train for many years. This is partly because they are trying to isolate and train their vocal cords: a mechanism about the size of your little finger nail. This is made doubly hard by the fact that unlike other musicians, singers can’t see their instrument, so all of their learning has to be by sensation. Unlike almost every other type of performer, opera singers must memorize their entire part before rehearsals even begin. Fortunately for most singers, they are not singing a new role every single time; they often refresh roles that they have sung before. An opera singer has a repertoire of hundreds of hours of music that they can sing professionally after a very short period of preparation. Singers also have to be able to pronounce and understand the many languages in which operas are written– Italian, German, French, Russian; even Czech! Opera singers also have to be convincing actors, taking on some of the most complex characters in literature. They sing and act while onstage under hot lights, performing blocking that can be awkward or difficult. Opera singers have to be able to sing running, jumping, dancing and even lying down! Period costumes like hoop skirts, cloaks and corsets can also be hot and uncomfortable. Opera aficionados have good reason to obsess over their favorite opera stars!
A QUICK GUIDE TO VOICE PARTS Soprano: Sopranos have the highest voices. They usually play the heroines of an opera. This means they often have lots of show-off arias to sing, and get to fall in love and / or die more often than other female voice types. Mezzo-soprano, or mezzo: This is the middle female voice, and has a darker, warmer sound than the soprano. Mezzos spend a lot of their time playing mothers and villainesses, although sometimes they get to play seductive heroines. Mezzos also play young men on occasion – these are called trouser roles. Contralto, or alto: The lowest female voice. Contralto is a rare voice type. Altos usually portray older females or character parts like witches and old gypsies. Countertenor: Also known as alto, this is the highest male voice, and another vocal rarity. Countertenors sing with about the same range as a contralto. Countertenor roles are most common in baroque opera, but some more modern composers write parts for countertenors too. Tenor: If there are no countertenors on stage, then the highest male voice in opera is the tenor. Tenors are usually the heroes who get the girl or die horribly in the attempt. Baritone: The middle male voice. In comic opera, the baritone is often the ringleader of whatever naughtiness is going on, but in tragic opera, he’s more likely to play the villain. Bass: The lowest male voice. Low voices usually suggest age and wisdom in serious opera, and basses usually play Kings, fathers, and grandfathers. In comic opera basses often portray old characters that are foolish or laughable.
Vocal coaches Fortunately, singers get help. The Met has voice coaches who help singers pronounce words, make sure that their singing style is in keeping with the style of the production and smooth out any rough spots. But the coaches don’t teach singers technique! To get to the Met, a singer must already be very accomplished.
The prompter The best coaches are asked to be prompters. Prompters stand in a hooded box at the foot of the stage and help give singers cues, keep them in time with the orchestra, and remind them of any blocking or music they may have forgotten. Most importantly, the prompter must know the particular singers and be able to anticipate their problems before they arise. Because they must memorize all the music, words and blocking in an opera, the prompter is one of the hardest jobs at the opera house.
The orchestra The orchestra plays the music of the opera. You can see them in the pit, below the foot of the stage. The Met has a regular orchestra with 92 members, as well as 44 associates who are scheduled as needed. Often opera orchestras include special effects specific to the opera being performed. Sometimes you can see unusual instruments in the pit. Some previously used at The Met include airplane propellers, type writers, and guillotines!
A QUICK GUIDE TO THE FAMILIES OF THE ORCHESTRA Strings: violins, violas, cellos, double bass Woodwind: piccolos, flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons Brass: trumpets, trombones, French horns, baritones and tubas Percussion: bass drums, kettle drums, timpani, xylophones, piano, bells, gongs, cymbals, chimes
The chorus The chorus at the Met isn’t a consolation prize; it’s an intense, full-time job. Unlike the principals, the 82 member chorus (sometimes bigger for operas like Aida and Boris Godunov) must have perfect ensemble– anything less than immaculate attacks and cut-offs would detract from the production. The Met chorus has to learn large chunks of music for each opera, spend hours in rehearsals and sometimes perform in several different operas a week! In each opera, chorus members have to remember just as much as the soloists – the only difference is that they sing together rather than on their own.
The dance corps The Met has a regular corps of sixteen dancers. The Met can also call on more than sixty associate dancers based on the style of dance required by each opera, such as classical ballet, flamenco, or modern dance.
The stage manager In order to keep all of the elements of opera under control, the stage manager must be highly skilled in many different areas. This makes being an opera stage manager a much tougher position than a theatrical stage manager. He or she must follow the score throughout the opera to give all the technical cues, as well as be an expert in stage craft, making sure that the lights, costumes, sets, stage machinery and choreography work on stage. A stage manager must also be able to cope with the enormous pressure of keeping such a complicated operation running smoothly. There are usually assistant stage managers as well, who not only assist the stage manager in cueing lights, special effects and scene changes but make sure that artists, props, furniture, and costumes are backstage when needed.
The crews Many people assist the artistic designers in making their designs look great. Stagehands set up the stage, while flymen raise and lower sets fixed to the grid, or “fly” above the stage. Costumers, make-up artists and wig staff make the principals look stage-ready.
But that’s not all! In many respects, The Metropolitan Opera is a business just like any other. It needs many administrators, publicity representatives, a technology support staff, development advisors, and even security personnel. But because it is the Met, there are some employees that you would never find at your average business– like the archivists, Met Titles writers and the many people that work together to make the weekly radio broadcasts happen. 1,500 people work for the Met every season… no wonder it is considered one of the greatest opera houses in the world!
THE COMPOSER Engelbert Humperdinck Engelbert Humperdinck was born in the small town of Siegburn, Germany, near Bonn, on September 1, 1854. He began his musical studies with piano lessons at the age of seven. Despite his father’s wishes for him to study architecture, Humperdinck studied music at the Cologne Conservatory. It was here that he received many awards including the Frankfurt Mozart Prize in 1876 and the Mendelssohn Prize of Berlin in 1979. He traveled to Munich in 1880 where he studied with composer Richard Wagner. By 1882, Humperdinck was working with Wagner as his musical assistant for the first performance of Parsifal. Wagner even allowed him to compose a short section of music to cover a scene change in that first performance. Later in his career, Humperdinck was employed as a conservatory teacher, critic, adviser to a music publisher, and of course, composer. His compositions were nearly all vocal or theatrical, with his most famous work being Hansel and Gretel. This one work, which is now firmly established in the operatic repertoire, made Humperdinck’s reputation. His sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto with the intention of providing her children with a musical play. Instead it became an opera which premiered in Weimar on December 23, 1893. Humperdinck was a German nationalist who wrote several works praising the fatherland and the Kaiser or “Emperor.” Hansel and Gretel, based on a folk tale by the Brothers Grimm, fits his nationalistic ideals. When the opera premiered at the Weimar Theatre, Richard Strauss, the assistant conductor of this performance, hailed the music as “original, new, and authentically German.” He continued to write operas, many of which were fairy tale operas or comic operas. Despite the popularity and success of Hansel and Gretel, none of Humperdinck’s later works were met with such enthusiasm. Thus, Humperdinck continued to teach in Berlin until 1920. He died at the age of 67 in Neustrelitz, a town north of Berlin, on September 27, 1921.
BACKGROUND Legends and Fairy tales Engelbert Humperdinck was not the first composer to use a fairy tale plot to create an opera! Because German literature is rich in folklore and legends, many German composers felt strongly about exploring these traditional stories through their music. Before Humperdinck, composer Carl Maria von Weber wrote an opera entitled Der Freischütz or “The Marksman.” This opera, first performed in Berlin in 1821, could be considered the first opera of the German Romantic Era as it used stylistic characteristics as a template that future German composers adapted and ultimately became a tradition. There are several characteristics that are representative of German Romantic opera. First, the characters of this type of opera are usually simple people who get tangled up in the webs of the supernatural (like fairies and witches!). Forests are largely significant in German folklore. Many stories emphasize the vastness and impenetrable nature of forests, and the supernatural characters are frequently found in the depths of the mysterious wilderness. Hansel and Gretel is a folk tale that the Grimm Brothers collected for their collaborative publication Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The story, following along with traditional characteristic of the German Romantic era, is set mainly in the forest. The characters are simple people who also happen to be poor, and the supernatural occurrences (the Dew Fairy, the Sandman, and the Witch) happen in the dark and ominous forest.
Wagner’s influence When Humperdinck met up with Richard Wagner in 1880, he was invited to come to Bayreuth (By-royt) the next year to help Wagner on his production of Parsifal. Humperdinck’s friends voiced their fears that by studying with Wagner, Humperdinck’s own creativity might be inhibited. Despite those concerns, Humperdinck said that he would give up ‘originality’ in order to study with Wagner and perhaps learn to write choruses like those in Wagner’s Parsifal. Many composers adopted Wagner’s style into their own compositions. It is clear that Wagner’s compositional style had a great effect on Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel as he uses “Wagnerian” musical trademarks throughout the opera. Loud musical climaxes, leitmotifs, and thick chromaticisms are found alongside expressive and tuneful 17
melodies. Despite having all the right ingredients for a traditional German opera, this children’s fairy tale is an unlikely story for such a Wagnerian approach; however, Humperdinck uses great discretion with his Wagnerian scoring in memorable pieces such as “Evening Prayer” (sung by Hansel and Gretel), and “I Come With Golden Sunshine” (sung by the Dew Fairy) by pairing his large orchestral interludes with such simple, singable melodies!
THE MAKING OF
Hansel and Gretel A Family Endeavour Hansel and Gretel was written as a collaborative project between brother and sister Engelbert Humperdinck and Adelheid Wette. In 1890, Adelheid adapted the text from folk songs found in The Grimm Brothers’ original version of the story. Then, she asked her brother Engelbert to write some music so that her children could sing them. From there, Humperdinck decided to compose the full fledged opera! In 1895, she collaborated with her brother once more on another Grimm fairy tale called Die sieben Geislein, or, The Seven Baby Goats. Why is Hansel played by a girl? Throughout operatic history, composers have used women to portray boy characters on stage. The part of Hansel is meant to be played by a woman and has been composed for a mezzosoprano’s singing range. Although the opera is full of simple folk melodies, the music is difficult and would be too challenging for a child to sing. Also, a young child would not be capable of singing over a full orchestra and be heard in a huge opera house like the Met! Older men have lower voices that would be unsuitable for playing a child. Just think – it would sound odd for a young boy to have such low sounds coming from his mouth! Young boys have a vocal range that is similar to that of a grown up mezzo-soprano so, although Hansel is indeed a boy, a light mezzo or soprano voice can communicate this youthful sound successfully. For a woman to sing the part of a young boy is a very common practice in opera, and has its own name – “Pants Role” or “Trouser Role.” Beyond the Gingerbread The first thoughts of Hansel and Gretel spark pictures in our minds of a Gingerbread house and candy windows. This production, however, portrays a much darker side of this beloved fairy tale. Director Richard Jones wants to exemplify the children’s greatest fears and greatest fantasies. Their fear is being lost and alone in the forest, but hunger is also a driving force in their lives. The scenery and set display the vast difference between the absence or abundance of food. When they are home, the sense of hunger is very real. Their family is poor, and they misbehave – perhaps a common reaction from troubled children. The reaction of their mother is to send them away from the house and into the woods. Mr. Jones stated in an interview, “Hansel and Gretel is a feast for 19
children because they transgress, they’re naughty…But then they get to eat a lot of food – they get to gorge themselves on sweets. It engages with their fears and their fantasies.” That is the key ingredient for the staging and design of this production. The Set According to director Richard Jones, the opera will be set in three distinct kitchen settings because food is a focus of this opera. The first kitchen will be a realistic setting in the children’s home. As the story progresses, the kitchens get more elaborate and more ridiculous. The next kitchen scene is described as being designed in the “German Expressionist” style. The third kitchen is the Witch’s kitchen which is described as being designed with “Theater of the Absurd” in mind. “Theater of the Absurd” is the most nonrealistic of the bunch. Traditionally, the scenery in “Theater of the Absurd” is hardly recognizable and the plot gets more twisted and the characters act in wild and nonsensical ways. The Curtains Beyond the progression of the kitchen settings, the sense of food and gluttony is also brought to life by large curtains or scrims with paintings of plates. To greater exemplify the theme of food, some plates are bare, and one is even broken. These curtains are interjected throughout the performance, bringing again, a dark undertone to the entirety of this classic tale. For More Information You may watch a video interview with director Richard Jones to hear more about his visions for this production and see examples of the kitchen sets and plateinspired curtains. Visit the Met’s Website: http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/season/newseason_video.aspx
MEET THE THE CHARACTERS CHARACTERS Hansel (mezzo-soprano; trouser role) – A young boy who lives with his sister and parents in a cottage in the woods. He cleverly figures out how to escape from the witch. Gretel (soprano) – Hansel’s sister. She follows Hansel’s advice to free them both from the evil witch. The Witch (tenor) – An evil old woman who lives deep in the forest. She captures Hansel and Gretel, puts a spell on them, and intends to bake them in her magic oven. Mother (Gertrude) (soprano) – Hansel and Gretel’s mother. She sends them out of the forest to collect berries for dinner, and is frantic when she realizes that they might be lost. Father (Peter) (baritone) – Hansel and Gretel’s father, a maker and seller of brooms. He is distraught when he learns that his wife sent the children off alone into the strange forest. Sandman (soprano; trouser role) – A mysterious old man who sprinkles Hansel and Gretel with a magic dust, making them sleepy. Dew Fairy (soprano) – She sprinkles the children with dew to wake them after a night of refreshing sleep.
THE STORY OF
Hansel and Gretel Children at Play
Act I Hansel and Gretel have been left at home alone by their parents. When Hansel complains to his sister that he is hungry, Gretel shows him some milk that a neighbor has given them for the family’s supper. To entertain them, she begins to teach her brother how to dance. Mother Spoils the Fun Suddenly their mother returns. She scolds the children for playing and wants to know why they have gotten so little work done. When she accidentally spills the milk, she angrily chases the children out into the woods to pick strawberries. Danger Lurking in the Woods Hansel and Gretel’s father returns home drunk. He is pleased because he was able to make a considerable amount of money that day. He brings out the food he has bought and asks his wife where the children have gone. She explains that she has sent them into the woods. Horrified, he tells her that the children are in danger because of the witch who lives there. They rush off into the woods to look for them. Alone in the Forest
Gretel sings while Hansel picks strawberries. When they hear a cuckoo calling, they imitate the bird’s call, eating strawberries all the while, and soon there are none left. In the sudden silence of the woods, the children realize that they have lost their way and grow frightened. The Sandman comes to bring them sleep by sprinkling sand on their eyes. Hansel and Gretel say their evening prayer. In a dream, they see fourteen angels protecting them.
Rise and Shine The Dew Fairy appears to awaken the children. Gretel wakes Hansel, and the two find themselves in front of a gingerbread house. They do not notice the Witch, who decides to fatten Hansel up so she can eat him. She immobilizes him with a spell. Hocus Pocus The oven is hot, and the Witch is overjoyed at the thought of her banquet. Gretel has overheard the witch’s plan, and she breaks the spell on Hansel. When the Witch asks her to look in the oven, Gretel pretends she doesn’t know how: the Witch must show her. When she does, peering into the oven, the children shove her inside and shut the door. A Happy Ending The oven explodes, and the many gingerbread children the Witch had enchanted come back to life. Hansel and Gretel’s parents appear and find their children. All express gratitude for their salvation. .
THE MUSIC OF
Hansel and Gretel The beginning of German opera - Singspiel In the 17th century, when Italian opera was prevalent in opera houses across the world, some cities in Germany supported opera companies that performed works by native German composers. The German version of opera was called Singspiel (zing-shpeel) and literally means “sing play.” These operas combined singing and spoken dialogue, instead of using recitative (sung dialogue) that was typical of Italian operas of the time. Nationalism in German Music Like Wagner, Humperdinck was an intensely patriotic German. In this vein, he chose to call the opening to Hansel and Gretel a Prelude, not “Overture,” the French term. Composers also felt very strongly about building up national pride by writing music for their country that were written in the style of traditional folk songs, or that represented their nation in a patriotic way. Humperdinck’s use of folk song melodies in Hansel and Gretel helped his opera to be viewed as “original, new and authentically German.” Folksong Using the libretto adapted by his sister, Adelheid Wette, Humperdinck first composed folksongs and created a Singspiel. After more consideration, Humperdinck decided to turn the speaking parts into singing as well, thus creating the full opera. These folk songs do not necessarily advance the plot of the opera and are not part of the dialogue, but are songs that the children sing – usually about nature or imaginary people. • “Suse, liebe Suse/Susie, dear Suzie” Listen for the opening melody being played in the introduction by different instruments – first the clarinets then the flutes. Also, can you tell where the folk song ends and the dialogue starts? Listen for the bassoons repeat the ending melody 3 times, and then a slight pause before Hansel sings “Ah, how I wish mother would come home!” Here is where Hansel and Gretel begin to talk about being poor and having nothing to eat. • “Ein Männlein steht im Walde/A Little Man in the Woods” Gretel begins the song without accompaniment from the orchestra! Then, when the orchestra comes in, it is still very simple. This sparse accompaniment keeps the song very innocent and peaceful. After Gretel sings her second verse, the French horns come in with the tune in a rustic harmony. French horns are 24
commonly used in this way to depict a forest setting. Listen to the clarinet’s ornamented solo. What could this be representing in the forest? A bird? A falling leaf? Decide for yourself! Leitmotif A leitmotif (light-moteef), or “leading motive,” is a recurring musical theme usually associated within a piece of music with a specific person, place, thing, or idea within the story. This motive could be a melodic line, a chord or chord progression, or even a rhythmic pattern. It is usually found in the orchestra, and as the story progresses, the leitmotif can gain significance or indicate connections between the characters or objects they represent. Leitmotifs in Hansel and Gretel Humperdinck uses leitmotifs in many ways in Hansel and Gretel. The most frequent use of the leitmotivs is to foreshadow upcoming characters and to tie together a common theme that runs throughout the work.
Recognizing the Witch After Father comes home to find that Mother sent his children out into the eerie woods of Ilenstein, he sings a cryptic song illustrating the Witch’s evilness and plans to capture and eat children. •
“Die Hex’, steinalt/The Witch, old as stone” In this piece, the percussion and strings have staccato rhythms that indicate the Witch’s sneaky personality. Contrastingly, the woodwinds have long, legato and chromatic lines that represent the looping flight of the Witch on her broomstick.
• “Der Hexenritt/The Witch’s Ride” Listen for Father’s melody from the previous track repeated in the low strings and low brass. Then, the melody is taken into the woodwinds – listen as the mood lightens. Although we have not seen the Witch on stage yet, it is clear by the musical examples in the orchestra that she is near.
A Witchy Cackle! We hear the witch’s laugh many times! To represent her highpitched laugh, Humperdinck uses the highest pitched instruments like piccolos, flutes and violins. Listen to each of these tracks and hear the Witch give her menacing cackle! Listen! • “Knusper, knusper, Knäuschen/Munchy, Munchy, Mousey” • “Ich bin Rosina Leckermaul/I am Rosina Dainty Mouth” • “Nun, Gretel, sei vernünftig und nett!/Now, Gretel, it is reasonable and nice!” In this song, listen particularly for a cackle in the orchestra as well as a cackle from the Witch herself!
I am Rosina Dainty Mouth! The children finally meet the Witch near her house, and to lure them into her magic spell, she slyly sings her aria saying how nice she is to little children. Listen to the opening melody from this aria, as well as her menacing laugh, is often repeated throughout the rest of the opera to remind the audience about the Witch’s presence. Listen! • “Ich bin Rosina Leckermaul/I am Rosina Dainty Mouth” • “Nun, Gretel, sei vernünftig und nett/Now Gretel, it is reasonable and nice”
Evening Prayers There are slight religious tones sprinkled throughout the entirety of this opera.
• “Abends, will ich schlafen geh’n/Evening, I want to go to sleep” First, listen to the lullaby duet. Hear how the orchestra plays very quietly to give a dream-like feel. While Hansel and Gretel sing, the orchestra has a thin quality that allows the voices to really ring out. This is one of the most famous melodies in the opera. • “Vorspiel/Prelude” Now, hear the very beginning of the opera. Do you recognize the “Evening Prayer” melody? It is in a different key, but the low brass ring out and give a very majestic feeling to this tune. Then, the strings take over, and the whole orchestra plays together with that full, “Wagnerian” sound!
THE PRODUCTION PROCESS
REHEARSAL ETIQUETTE POINTERS
Absolutely NO talking or whispering during rehearsals! The Met has nearly perfect acoustics– which means that the singers onstage can hear you as well as you can hear them. The Met has no right angles anywhere in the house, allowing all the curves to bounce the sound back into the atmosphere. All of the wooden veneer in the auditorium came from a single African rosewood tree, thus the sound resonates at exactly the same frequency. It’s as if the auditorium itself is a huge musical instrument!
No snacks, gum, or drinks inside the auditorium.
Turn off electronic devices (No iPods, cell phones or beeping watches, etc.)
No feet on seats or railings.
WHO TO WATCH… Biographies of the Cast Cast and Crew Crew Alice Coote (Mezzo-Soprano) – Hansel – Alice Coote was born in London, England. She studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, the Royal Northern College of Music, and the National Opera Studio. Her highly varied concert repertoire ranges from Bach and Handel Oratorios to compositions by Mahler, Debussy and Britten. Her operatic roles include Poppea, Dorabella, Cherubino and Lucretia with many opera companies including Covent Garden, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Opera North, Seattle Opera and many others. At the BBC 2003 Proms, Ms. Coote, with Julius Drake, premiered Judith Weir’s song cycle ‘The Voice of Desire’. The cycle was composed specifically for them. They also regularly appear at London’s Wigmore Hall, the Concertgebouw Amsterdam and at New York’s Lincoln Centre. Ms. Coote has recently become an EMI Classics Artist due to the success of her recital recording of Schumann and Mahler works. Other recordings include Walton’s Gloria (Chandos), The Choice of Hercules (Hyperion), Orfeo (Virgin Classics). Alan Held (Bass-Baritone) – Father (Peter) – A native of Washburn, Illinois, Alan Held is known as one of America’s leading opera singers. He received his vocal training from Millikin University and Wichita State University. He has performed major roles in many of the world’s most famous opera houses including The Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Lyrics Opera of Chicago, Covent Garden, Teatro Alla Scala, and Munich State Opera. His many roles include Wotan in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Leporello in Don Giovanni, Jochanaan in Salome, Don Pizzaro in Fidelio, Orestes in Elektra, Balstrode in Peter Grimes, and the title role in Wozzeck. Mr. Held has received numerous awards and honors including the Birgit Nilsson Prize. He is also a noted clinician had has regularly given masterclasses at Millikin University and Yale University. 30
Philip Langridge (Tenor) – The Witch – Philip Langridge is a British tenor born in Hawkhurst, Kent, England on December 6, 1939. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Langridge performs on operatic and concert stages world-wide and is a singer in great demand in Europe, the United States and Japan. He sings a wide range of repertoire from Monteverdi to contemporary works. He performs regularly at La Scala in Milan and Covent Garden. Langridge’s recordings have given him great success, and he has won two Grammy Awards (Moses und Aron and Peter Grimes), a Gramophone Award (War Requiem), and the Classic CD Award (The Turn of the Screw). In concert, he has performed under the baton of many of the world’s leading conductors such as Bychkov, Davis, Harnoncourt, Levine, Previn, Rattle and Solti. Mr. Langridge is best known for his Britten interpretations. He is considered a leading performer of English opera and oratorio, and regularly performs the sacred works of Bach and Handel. Rosalind Plowright (Mezzo-Soprano) – Mother (Gertrude) – The British Mezzo-Soprano Rosalind Plowright was born on May 21, 1949. She studied in Manchester and at the London Opera Center. She made her debut in 1975 as the Page in Salome with the England National Opera, her United States debut with San Diego and in 1983, she made her La Scala debut. She is also a screen actress, and has appeared in the BBC series House of Elliott and on the theatrical stage in a new musical comedy titled Two’s A Crowd. She has performed in Aida with Luciano Pavarotti at Covent Garden, and will return in the 2007/2008 season for The Ring cycles. She has also performed with “The Three Tenors.” Ms. Plowright performed Il Trovatore with Plácido Domingo at Covent Garden and received the Deutsche Grammophon award.
Christine Schäfer (Soprano) – Gretel – This German soprano was born in Frankfurt. She began her vocal studies at the Berlin Hochschule der Künste (Academy of Arts) with Ingrid Figur. In 1985, she performed in several masterclasses with Arleen Augér who has played a large role in her training. She has also studied with Deitrich Fischer-Dieskau and Sena Jurinac. She is known for her diverse repertoire ranging from Baroque music to Mozart arias to works by contemporary composers. One composer in particular has had a great influence on her career – Aribert Reimann. It was his course on contemporary song at Berlin Hochschule that she was able to cultivate in depth her love for the music of our time, and Reimann has also composed several songs specifically for her. In 1989 she made her first record with songs composed by Reimann. Vladimir Jurowski – Conductor – A Russian conductor, Vladimir Jurowski was born in Moscow on April 4, 1972. He studied music at the Music College of the Moscow Conservatory. In 1990, he moved with his family to Germany where he studied conducting with Rolf Reuter. Despite his young age, this is not his Metropolitan Opera conducting debut! In 2004, he held the baton at the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades with Plácido Domingo. He has also conducted operas at the Welsh National Opera, the Opera National de Paris, and last season, he made his La Scala debut. In September of this year, he will become the Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Richard Jones – Director – This is Richard Jones’ Metropolitan Opera debut! He was born in London and studied at the University of Hull and the University of London. In 1987, he directed the world premiere of Judith Weir’s A Night at the Chinese Opera for Kent Opera, and a production of Mignon at the Wexford Festival. Mr. Jones has also directed Hansel and Gretel in the UK. John Macfarlane – Set and Costume Designer – This production of Hansel and Gretel is Mr. Macfarlane’s Metropolitan Opera debut, but he is no stranger to opera design. Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1948, he received his training at the Glasgow School of Art. He is recognized as one of the world’s leading designers for opera and ballet, and has worked with many famous companies
including the San Francisco Ballet, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Netherlands Dans Theater, and the Scottish Opera. Jennifer Tipton – Lighting Designer – Jennifer Tipton is an award-winning lighting designer, having lit the stage for many ballets, plays and musicals. She won a Tony Award for Best Lighting Design for Jerome Robbins' Broadway and The Cherry Orchard. She designed the lighting for Baryshnikov’s production of The Nutcracker both for the stage and for television.
WHEN TO WATCH… An Avera Average verage Production Production Timeline Timeline 5-10 years in advance
General manager chooses operas for the season; designers, singers and conductors are scheduled for each production.
3-5 years in advance
Stage rehearsal schedule drafted.
2-3 years in advance
Design team submits sketches and/or models for a new production to the technical director.
1 year in advance
Tech rehearsals begin for a new production.
5-6 weeks in advance
New productions begin rehearsing in practice rooms.
About 2 weeks in advance
New productions begin rehearsing on the main stage with piano. During piano rehearsals, singers wear street clothes and work mainly with the stage director. The chorus begins to learn their blocking.
About 1 week in advance
New productions begin rehearsing with the orchestra. By this time, the lights and sets are ready, and costumes are usually worn. During the orchestra rehearsals, the conductor makes most of the changes, while artistic designers put the finishing touches on the production.
2 nights before opening
Final dress rehearsal– a full run-through with full costumes, sets, orchestration, and blocking. Changes rarely need to be made at this point.
ACTIVITIES • TO INTRODUCE YOUR STUDENTS TO OPERA Brainstorm Peter Brook Opera Game
• TO INTRODUCE YOUR STUDENTS TO Hansel and Gretel The Story Storytelling What Drives the Characters? Another Side The Music Saturation Music What the Music Tells Us Discuss and Create: Leitmotifs Folksongs and Culture Context Create an In-house Study Guide The World of the Opera Possible Research Topics Themes & Issues Coffee Talk Two Thumbs Up!
• TO INTRODUCE YOUR STUDENTS TO THE PRODUCTION PROCESS Adaptation Lingo Ch-ch-ch-changes The Price Is Right Style Points! So, How Did the Met Do?
• RESEARCH IDEAS
ACTIVITIES TO INTRODUCE YOUR STUDENTS TO OPERA Objective: Students become familiar with opera as an art form—its conventions, its history, and its continuing potential to touch lives
Brainstorm! Time required: at least 10 minutes Resources required: 5 or 6 large sheets of paper and markers Purpose: To explode opera myths! If opera is a new experience for your class, brainstorming can be a nice way to introduce them to it. Split your class into 5 or 6 groups, with a large sheet of paper per group. In their groups, have them write all the words that they can think of associated with the word opera for 5 minutes – or as long as the group needs (i.e. screamy singing, fat ladies, Viking helmets, shattering glass, grandparents, etc.). When the time is up, have students walk around the room and look at what other groups have written or select a group representative to share with the class. Extensions of this activity: • If you sing in daily life, when and where do you sing? (While you’re getting ready in the morning? When you’re happy?) • Discuss how opera singers’ voices are not amplified and how they must project. • Introduce students to opera vocabulary.
Peter Brook Opera Game Time required: 15+ minutes Resources required: none Purpose: To discover what it feels like to be an opera singer English director, Peter Brook, famous for his theatre and opera productions worldwide, developed this game to help actors and young singers understand the many tasks opera singers must perform at once. • •
Pick four students: one opera singer and three assistants (A, B and C) The opera singer and A should face each other. A will make a series of simple movements, which the opera singer should mimic as closely as possible, being A’s mirror B is responsible for asking the opera singer simple mathematical equations. The opera singer must answer these, while still mirroring A C is responsible for asking the opera singer a series of personal questions (what’s your favorite place, favorite color, etc). The opera singer must answer questions from B and C, whilst being A’s mirror
This game gives students a taste of what it’s like for opera singers to follow blocking (physical movement), sing music (math) and make artistic and emotional decisions (personal questions) all at the same time. Things to watch out for: • B and C have a tendency to become very polite, alternating questions. Have them try different ways of asking the questions. They should repeat them if they are not receiving answers! • The opera singer will find it easier to follow A if looking directly into A’s eyes, allowing the movements to be in their peripheral vision. • A’s movements should be smooth and slow – the aim is to allow the opera singer to follow, not to make them mess up!
ACTIVITIES TO INTRODUCE YOUR STUDENTS TO
Hansel and Gretel Objectives: • • •
Students immerse themselves in the story and music of the focus opera. Students put the focus opera in historical context and learn about its social and/or musicological significance. Students identify the themes and issues at the heart of the opera.
THE STORY Storytelling Resources required: “Meet the Characters” and “The Story of Hansel and Gretel” from this guide. Purpose: To help students identify with the characters and their dilemmas; to become familiar with story construction. • •
Introduce the main characters Have the students to whom you have assigned characters sit or stand in accordance with their characters’ relationships; have the students themselves guess what relationships exist between the characters based on what they already know. Ask the class what they think will happen when these characters meet. How will one character’s wishes affect the fate of another? (This could be a discussion, or you could ask them to write down what they think will happen in the story). Use the students’ ideas to introduce the full synopsis. Stop at crucial turning points in the plot and ask the students what they think will happen to the characters next.
What drives the characters? Resources required: none Purpose: To help the students identify with the characters and their dilemmas; To develop critical thinking skills through character analysis Hansel and Gretel • Why are Hansel and Gretel so obedient to their mother’s command to go into the woods to pick strawberries? • How do you think Hansel and Gretel changed throughout the course of the opera? • How do you think life will be different for Hansel and Gretel now that they’ve gone through this experience? Witch • Why does the Witch choose Hansel to be fattened up, and not Gretel? • What might the Witch have done with Gretel, ultimately? • How would the story change if the witch lived? • Why does she live in the forest? Father • What would he have done to the children if here were home when they spilled the milk? • What were his thoughts when he learned his children were in the forest? • What would he have done, or said, to the witch? • What does he think of his life and family at the end of the opera?
Another Side Resources required: Optional costume ideas, optional art supplies for set making Purpose: To improve written language skills; To develop critical thinking skills; To develop creative writing skills Hansel and Gretel was written from a 3rd person perspective. This is the author’s way of telling the story from the outside instead of knowing the thoughts of a single character. Working in groups, choose one character to be the narrator, and rewrite the story from their perspective. Brainstorm: • Background information about that character’s life that we might not otherwise know • Feelings this character might have towards the characters he/she encounters • Inner thoughts the character might have as the story plays out Extensions of this activity: • In your groups, create a skit to perform for the class o Assign roles o Design costumes o Make a set o Practice your creation • Incorporate Music to enhance your performance • Write a story collaboratively as a class, or turn this activity into an individual creative writing assignment.
The Music Saturation Music Resources required: CD of the opera Purpose: To familiarize your students with the music From an activity by Lou Barella, Brooklyn High School for Arts and Music
Some time before you begin preparing your students to see Hansel and Gretel, play the music of the overture as often as you can: in the background while students are entering the classroom, while they are leaving class, etc. Refuse to answer questions about the music. Instead, pique the students’ interest by asking them to guess what the music might be depicting. Later, when you introduce the music, they will already recognize it.
What the music tells us Resources required: Blackboard / whiteboard, recording of the opera Purpose: To help students identify with the characters and their dilemmas by responding creatively to the opera; To develop critical listening skills Based on an activity by Mike Minnard, A MacArthur Barr Middle School
Before introducing the story of the opera to your students, pose this question on the board, If this piece of music were a person, what would the person be like? Then play the overture to Hansel and Gretel for the class. While your students are listening to the excerpt, they should write every adjective that comes to mind that describes the music and personifies the sound. The words are then offered by the class and written on the board. Use the students’ descriptions to introduce the premise of the opera and the characters.
Extensions of this activity: Play the excerpt for your students again. What do they think is the setting? What’s the story? Ask them to justify their guesses. Use the students’ guesses to introduce the story of Hansel and Gretel. Then, listen to the music a final time, following along with the translations provided in the back of the book.
Discuss and Create: Leitmotifs Resources required: Optional musical instruments Purpose: To become familiar with story and dramatic construction; To respond imaginatively to the opera’s expressive qualities Leitmotifs are used in Hansel and Gretel to give the audience a connection with certain characters or ideas. In this opera, we recognize key players in the opera by their musical leitmotif; however, leitmotifs are not found only in Wagnerian-style German operas! Discuss leitmotifs found in contemporary media. (Examples include: Darth Vader from Star Wars and the theme from Jaws) Create your own personal leitmotif! Using a few notes, rhythms or other sounds (patterns are useful), have each student create and perform their own ‘leitmotif’ for the class. Have students think about their daily habits. Perhaps they have something they say frequently. Maybe they have an expressive laugh. Think about your own culture or background musically. These characteristics can be incorporated into their leitmotif. Let it be personal, and let it be fun!
Folksongs and Culture Resources Required: Internet Purpose: To develop research skills and make connections to another culture; To develop critical thinking and research skills If you were rewriting Hansel and Gretel to become a fairy tale opera from your own culture, what songs might you use as folk tunes to incorporate into the libretto? Research the music from your heritage. Pick one or two that you particularly enjoy! If the music is in another language, see if you can find a translation, so that the class knows what you are singing about. Choose one song to present to the class. Get into detail about its musical characteristics. Things to discuss: • • • •
Instrumentation – How many instruments? What are they? Do any of the instruments exist in the United States? Melodic line – Is it easy to sing? Tempo and Style – Is the song upbeat or peaceful? Could you dance to it, or might it be a lullaby? Text – What is the subject matter of this song? Why might it have been written? Is it sung by a man or a woman, or could it be sung by either one? Are there many versions of this song on recording? Have any famous people recorded it? If possible, bring in a recording to share with the class!
Context Create an in-house study guide Purpose: To understand the story and background of the opera; to develop research and essay writing skills Based on an activity by Anthony Marshall, Baldwin Senior High School
Create your own “in-house” study guide for Hansel and Gretel as a class. Each student will write one article on an aspect of the story, characters, composer or background. Decide as a class what you will need to cover to provide a balanced insight into the opera. When students have completed their articles, collect them in a book and distribute copies to the whole class.
The world of the opera Resources required: Take a look in the Activities Section for research ideas. Purpose: To develop research skills and make connections to another historical era Have students imagine they live in the locale of the opera at the time of its occurrence. How would they 1) travel, 2) contact a friend, 3) find out about daily events, 4) entertain themselves, 5) eat, sleep, and keep warm? etc. This could be the basis for a classroom discussion or a research project.
THEMES AND ISSUES Coffee talk Resources required: None Purpose: To help students identify with the characters and their dilemmas by responding creatively to the opera; To develop critical thinking skills; To develop essay writing skills. Discuss the themes of the operas and have students write stories based on their own lives connected to these themes. Have they ever felt lonely, sad, or hungry? What do they do to cheer themselves up? Have they ever had to solve a problem on their own, without the help of a grownup?
Two thumbs up! Resources Required: Optional—video camera. Purpose: To help students think critically about the central themes and issues of an opera • • •
Divide students into small groups and encourage them to discuss the central themes of the opera. Students should then script a distillation of this conflict as a movie trailer or commercial and rehearse the skit. If possible, make a video. Groups then present and discuss their interpretations with the class.
ACTIVITIES TO INTRODUCE YOUR STUDENTS TO THE PRODUCTION PROCESS Objectives: • Students learn to recognize and discuss the choices made by directors, designers, conductors, and singers. • Students will discuss why choices are made by identifying the vision at a production’s core and critiquing the effectiveness of its translation onstage. • Students discuss how production decisions like schedule, cast and budget influence artistic choices. • Students will be able to make and justify their own artistic choices.
Adaptation Resources: Movies, books, scripts, CD’s, etc… Purpose: To show students a range of interpretive possibilities. Show students any set of three interpretations of any one central work. You could discuss treatments of the same subject in different media: Text of Death in Venice Selection from Britten’s Death in Venice Film version—Love and Death on Long Island; Venice, Venice; Death in Venice Text of Macbeth Selection from Verdi’s Macbeth Film version—Scotland, PA; Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood; Polanski’s Tragedy of Macbeth The text of Romeo and Juliet A clip from a film version—Luhrmann or Zeffirelli A selection from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette Text of Hamlet A clip from The Lion King A film version of Hamlet—take your pick. Text of Taming of the Shrew A selection from Kiss Me, Kate A clip from Ten Things I Hate About You
You could also compare treatments of the same subject in opera: Gounod’s Faust Boito’s Mephistopheles Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust Monteverdi’s Orpheus Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice Peri’s Euridice
Discuss the differences and similarities between the interpretations. Is it possible to change the form of a work and maintain the central message? Does the audience approach different media in different ways? Are some more difficult than others? Do some fit the subject matter better than others? This could also be a written assignment or the focus of small-group discussions.
Lingo! Resources: Multiple recordings of the opera. Purpose: To recognize artistic choices; To develop critical listening, viewing, and speaking skills. As it takes many times listening to a piece of music to fully familiarize oneself, this activity is best as a written assignment. •
Students should familiarize themselves with a five-minute (or so) excerpt from Hansel and Gretel, listening to it many times until they have it memorized. Following a score is preferable, but if not possible, students should diagram what they perceive to be the form of the selection. Next, listen to two other recordings. What is different in each of the recordings? Consider tempo, dynamics, balance, instrumentation, articulation, etc. What are choices that each group has made? What are the inflexible aspects of the composition? Discuss the relative merits of each recording. Which are most in keeping with the expectations of the period? What works in each interpretation? What doesn’t work? The focus should be on concise, objective statements about each group’s interpretation.
Extensions of this activity: If possible, watch a DVD. How have the director and composer interpreted the libretto and the music? What are they trying to emphasize? What are they trying to downplay? Does the production’s vision correspond to your conception of the central themes and images of the work?
Ch-ch-ch-changes Resources: Gallery of previous production images in the Resources section Purpose: To recognize and critique an artistic vision Display images from previous productions for your students, or play scenes from DVDs. • •
Have your students discuss or write down the choices that they think that designers have made. Have students characterize the feel of a production using a set of adjectives. Is the production dark? Symbolic? Exaggerated? Frivolous? Colorful? Encourage students to try to figure out why designers may have created a production with that feel. What might the designers think is at the core of this work? (e.g. Is the production angular and sparse to show that it is a story for all ages, not a dated Romantic work? Is it angular and sparse so that external landscapes are as distorted as the internal landscapes of the extreme characters?) There are no wrong answers, but there are educated guesses. Discuss whether the production is making a bold statement or not. Is the vision unified, or do some choices still seem random?
The price is right! Resources: None Purpose: To learn about the complexity of getting an opera onstage If a production of Hansel and Gretel were to be sponsored by a product or company, what or who would it be and why? Write a proposal to the president of the company you have chosen explaining why you think it would be a good idea for them to give funding to a production of Hansel and Gretel. Note: students must point out what the company would gain by sponsoring the opera, not what the production itself would gain from sponsorship.
Style Points Time Required: 30 minutes Resources Required: The story of Hansel and Gretel Purpose: For students to make and justify their own artistic ideas One of the most exciting aspects of opera directing is putting a new spin on classic stories. A director’s choices about setting, blocking and design concept can greatly influence the meaning of a work. Have your students create a production of Hansel and Gretel using their own ideas. Your students should concentrate on ways they can provide a deeper understanding of the characters and central themes of the opera through their choices. •
Ask your class to identify central themes in Hansel and Gretel (for example: family feud, battle of the sexes, young vs. old, etc.) As they brainstorm, write their responses on the board. Have your class split into small groups. Each group should choose one theme to concentrate on. Alternatively, students could do this individually for a more long-term project. When they have chosen a theme, ask students to brainstorm adjectives that describe how their theme makes them feel (for example: bold, angry, forlorn, on edge, daring, adventurous, powerless, etc.) Have your students create a unified design concept inspired by their theme-derived adjectives. Consider: shapes, colors, building materials, angles, locations, abstract vs. realistic, quality of light, large space vs. small, rake, easy or hard to navigate, etc. For instance, a “bold” production might feature bright colors, sharp angles and smooth surfaces. An “angry” production might feature dark colors and worn furniture. Ask your students to create set, costume and lighting designs for the production using their unified design concept and production plan. (Example setting: modern day Manhattan; skyscrapers, parks, trendy clothes, etc.) Each member of the group can be assigned a designing task, or they can work collaboratively on them. Students may describe their production verbally, in writing, or draw design sketches. Optional: Discuss what the acting will be like in this visual world (stylized, realistic, etc.).
After • • •
seeing the opera: How did Richard Jones’ Met staging differ from yours? Were there any similarities between your staging and Richard Jones’? Was there anything Richard Jones did that you didn’t agree with? What and why? • Why do you think he made the choices he did? What was he trying to emphasize?
So, How Did The Met Do? Resources Required: Significant understanding of the historical context, characters, plot, and music of the opera. Purpose: To respond creatively to the opera; To develop creative writing skills; To make and justify their own artistic ideas. Writing a review is not easy. It takes a great amount of creativity and thought. In this lesson, students will take information learned prior to attending the opera and apply it to what they witnessed while at The Met. Students should be encouraged to write in an editorial style. They should combine knowledge gained from previous lessons and about the opera with their own creative ideas and artistic opinions. What did they really think and why? •
Within a few days of The Met performance of Hansel and Gretel on December 24, 2007, you can find the New York Times review—either in the newspaper or at www.nytimes.com. Share it with your students. Write your own review of The Met. Music criticism relies on extreme knowledge of the opera. Below are certain points you might want to consider: 1) Does a particular artist have an individual sound or distinctive style/character that you liked/disliked? 2) Does an artist “wow” you with his/her dynamic range? 3) Does the person playing the role look the way you had imagined? 6) Were there any big mistakes? 7) What did you think of the sets, costumes, lights props, make-up, and other technical aspects of the production? What would you have changed or kept the same?
Be sure to include things you particularly enjoyed about the performance. If there were things you did not enjoy, explain why and how you might do things differently. Share various reviews with the class and discuss. How do they compare with the New York Times’ review? Do they address similar ideas?
RESEARCH IDEAS The following list is a suggestion of topics for further study research. Research into one or more of these areas could form the basis of a project. Leitmotifs • Wagner’s use of leitmotifs in other operas o Der fliegende Holländer o Tristan und Isolde o Parsifal • Finding leitmotifs in today’s media Fairy • • • •
Tales Other versions of Hansel and Gretel Similar stories from other cultures The Brothers Grimm Other fairy tale operas o Cendrillon (Cinderella) – Massenet o Die Zauberflote – Mozart o Turandot - Puccini Witches from other fairy tales
Germany: • Other 19th century German composers o Carl Maria von Weber, Richard Wagner, Robert Schumann • German Opera/Singspiel • German Lieder (Art song) o Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Hugo Wolf • German literature, poetry, art o Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Heinrich Heine, Caspar David Friedrich Going Further: • What was going on in the New York City region (or your region) in the late 19th century (the time of the opera’s composition)? How was life different from life in Germany? • Research what was going on around the world in the late 19th century Additional Information on this Production: For a video interview with producer Richard Jones: http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/season/newseason_video.aspx For a review of the original performance by the Welsh National Opera: http://www.onlinereviewlondon.com/reviews/hansel.html For a review of the performance by the Lyric Opera of Chicago: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4155/is_20011210/ai_n13933279
RESOURCES • USING Hansel and Gretel TO TEACH THE HUMANITIES • USING Hansel and Gretel TO TEACH MUSIC • OPERA NEWS ARTICLE: ARTICLE: “Too Grimm for Words” • METROPOLITAN OPERA FACTS • GLOSSARY
Using Hansel and Gretel to Teach the Humanities by Zeke Hecker A. SETTING THE STAGE Close to a large forest there lived a woodcutter with his wife and his two children. The boy was called Hansel and the girl Gretel. They were always very poor and had very little to live on. And at one time when there was famine in the land, he could no longer procure daily bread. One night when he lay in bed worrying over his troubles, he sighed and said to wife, "What is to become of us? How are we to feed our poor children when we have nothing for ourselves?" "I’ll tell you what, husband," answered the woman. "Tomorrow morning we will take the children out quite early into the thickest part of the forest. We will light a fire and give each of them a piece of bread. Then we will go to our work and leave them alone. They won’t be able to find their way back, and so we shall be rid of them." "Nay, wife," said the man, ‘we won’t do that. I could never find it in my heart to leave my children alone in the forest. The wild animals would soon tear them to pieces." "What a fool you are!" she said. "Then we must all four die of hunger. You may as well plane the boards for our coffins at once." She gave him no peace till he consented. "But I grieve over the poor children all the same," said the man. The two children could not go to sleep for hunger either, and they heard what their stepmother said to their father. Gretel wept bitterly and said, "All is over with us now." "Be quiet, Gretel," said Hansel. "Don’t cry! I will find some way out of it." (The Brothers Grimm) Even the Wagnerian Humperdinck - stuffed full of the defamation of all things commercial by the Bayreuth founders - made the Brothers Grimm commercially viable, in that the parents of Hansel and Gretel no longer cast the children out as in the fairy tale, since respect for the devoted father in the late nineteenth century must not be any means be further affronted. Such examples demonstrate how deeply opera as a consumer product - in this sense related to film - is entangled in calculations regarding the public. 53
(Theodor W. Adorno) This charming setting of a simple nursery tale was originally intended to be only an unpretentious work for home presentation. The composer’s sister wished a little singspiel for the use of her children and thus began the writing of the text. Humperdinck was asked to supply the music. He composed the work, using as his thematic material a number of the well-known German folksongs. As he worked, his enthusiasm and interest grew and soon the determination was reached to make the work an opera. The influence of Wagner was strong on the composer and, while the musical setting he has supplied is perhaps disproportionately elaborate and complex for so simple a story as is this nursery tale, the beauty of the music itself and the irresistible appeal of the book have made the opera a recognized masterpiece throughout the world. (The American History and Encyclopedia of Music, 1908) ... there is another inner and more precarious contrast - between the plot and its musical treatment. It is a false contrast, a conflict of style. Humperdinck could not have been unaware that the simple fairy-tale offered him not only a novel, promising theme but also a strong obstacle. Simplicity was the attraction but also the hazard. He who knows Hansel and Gretel in Grimm’s Fairy Tales can imagine only a children’s theatre for its dramatization, a theatre not only playing for children but also played by children. It is said that Mrs. Adelheid Wette, nee Humperdinck, the author of Hansel and Gretel, never thought of it as an opera ... But this was not enough for Humperdinck. With his little children he wanted to get hold of the big children, and not at home but in the opera house. He would not have gone far with simple childish music and naively plain settings. Our opera public would have become bored after the first two scenes and demanded more seasoned stuff. Thus: a children’s fairytale with brilliant adornments, a large orchestra, and the most modern music, preferably Wagnerian. No sooner said than done. The composer set to work and solved his task ably and successfully. He has attained his goal - whether with acceptable artistic means or not is disputable. The naiveté of the fairy-tale resists, in my opinion, the contrived Wagnerian style; there is an inner conflict between the subject and the manner of its presentation about which none can be in doubt, not even the composer, who asked for the contradiction and even needed it for his success. ... But Humperdinck has added another ending which we relate only with hesitation, since it is utter nonsense. In front of the witch’s house we see a long row of life-sized marshmallow statues representing "children turned to marshmallow" by the witch and now redeemed by Hansel and Gretel. With a 54
Wagner apostle, there is no way of escaping a "redemption." ... This gingerbread redemption sounds like a parody on redemption. Why does the witch catch children? In order to turn them into gingerbread? No, in order to fry and eat them. This we hear continually from the stage and see it prepared before our eyes. That the witch does not eat the children but turns them into marshmallow statues and puts them as a fence round her house gives the lie to all the foregoing and overthrows the whole fairy-tale. And this nonsense, which disfigures the whole work, was only committed for a superficial and unbeautiful theatrical effect. The audience, enjoying itself from beginning to end, did not, of course, object to this contradiction. It broke into applause the like of which has rarely been heard in the opera house. ... There are two musical inventors in Hansel and Gretel: first, those unknown, unsung mothers and nurses with whom the nursery rhymes originated and, second, Richard Wagner ... Humperdinck has chosen the nursery rhymes, which appear either in an original or slightly altered form, with great skill; they constitute the irresistible charm of the whole work. What he offers from his own means as an inventor of melodies is insignificant and cheaply sentimental. None of Humperdinck’s own melodies struck me as beautiful or genuine ... ... And then there is young Siegfried Wagner’s statement that Hansel and Gretel is the most important opera since Parsifal. In other words, the best in full twelve years? An irritating pronouncement, and the worst of it is - that it is true. (Eduard Hanslick) Humperdinck is often thought to have derived most of his skill and ideas from folk-song and Wagner. ... he is steeped in older tradition. Weber and Mendelssohn are just as often present as Wagner in the feeling of fairies, woods, and forest hobgoblins that suffuse the piece - and perhaps Marschner in the homespun quality of the domestic scenes. It was Humperdinck’s gift to bring them all together in his unique and succinct score ... (Alan Blyth) Opera first tries to recover from Wagner by composing a prologue to him, a fable whose innocence knows nothing as yet of Wagnerian lust and longing. This is Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel (1893), recognized by Wagner’s son Siegfried as the most important opera since Parsifal. Humperdinck had actually written some of Parsifal himself, supplying a few extra bars (later cut) to cover one of the scene changes at Bayreuth; and he set the Grimm story to a medley of quotations from Wagner. The domestic chores of the children are introduced by the Meistersinger overture: Hansel is making a broom and Gretel is knitting, both at home in Hans Sachs’s world of handicrafts. The witch is an unhinged cackling Brunnhilde, riding a broomstick not a winged horse, and 55
dawn comes to the forest with a reminiscence of the Norns from Goetterdaemmerung. In Parsifal a dove descends in blessing; Hansel and Gretel are protected at night by fourteen angels in a charmed circle. Humperdinck weds the various Wagnerian mythologies - the singing artisans of Meistersinger, the elemental nature of the Ring, the religious revelations of Parsifal - and from them makes a fairy tale, where the gods are gruff parents and the monsters infantile bogeys. He has made Wagner fit for children, and writing about their games can pretend he exists before rather than after Wagner; the child is the father of the man. (Peter Conrad) Perhaps the most charming product of an opera composer’s veneration of Wagner is Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel. The young Humperdinck was a repetiteur at Bayreuth and gained there the immense distinction of being cocomposer of Parsifal. The stage-manager had demanded a few bars more of music in which to effect the transformation scene. Wagner refused to add a note. But, during a sultry break in rehearsal, Humperdinck produced seven bars which satisfied composer and stage-manager and which, though now no longer required, remain in the score. Humperdinck remembered Parsifal in writing his music for the angel guardians of his wood children, and Die Walkure in his witches’ ride. The composer makes, too, one connection between Wagner and Richard Strauss. The lament of the shepherd at the close of Humperdinck’s Koenigskinder (King’s Children) prepares in a nicely Wagnerian manner for the melody and the orchestral tone of the final exulting duet of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. (Hamish F.G. Swanston) B. QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND WRITING 1. Many of the writers cited above think that the music of Humperdinck’s opera is too elaborate and inflated for its fairy tale subject. What do you think? 2. The excerpt from the beginning of Grimms’ version of the fairy tale, Adorno’s comment, and Hanslick’s condemnation of the opera’s ending reveal the extent to which the librettist "softened" the story. Would the opera have been better if it had kept the harshness of the original? 3. Opera composers frequently use "found" musical material, as Humperdinck did here with the several traditional nursery tunes that Hansel and Gretel sing. What are the artistic advantages of using such material, with which the audience may already be familiar? What are the dangers? In this opera, do the former outweigh the latter? 4. Hanslick says that Humperdinck is trying to have it both ways: a children’s 56
opera that will appeal to adults. Does he succeed with both audiences? Think of other entertainments that attempt the same breadth of appeal, such as the musical cartoon films of Walt Disney Studios. Does it work? 5. Recent studies of fairy tales, notably Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, emphasize the "subtext" and the ways in which they address the psychological needs, desires, and fears of children. What does the Hansel and Gretel story tell children that they need to hear? Does the "softened" tone of the opera interfere with those messages, improve them, or not affect them at all? 6. The writers quoted above devote much of their commentary to the influence of Wagner on Humperdinck’s musical language. Some accuse him of lack of originality. After getting to know the opera, consider whether it matters. Is the opera less good because it sounds Wagnerian? 7. Are fairy tales and otherwise "unrealistic" subjects better suited to operatic treatment than realistic ones? C. PROJECTS AND FURTHER STUDY 1. Read The Uses of Enchantment, especially the sections devoted to Hansel and Gretel, and evaluate Bettelheim’s interpretation of the story. 2. Humperdinck had one other major success in his lifetime, though it is now a rarity: Koenigskinder (mentioned by Swanston above). It, too, is a fairy tale opera based on a story by the brothers Grimm. Listen to a recording and compare it to Hansel and Gretel. 3. Other Grimms’ fairy tales that have been made into operas include Cinderella (twice, by Rossini as Cenerentola and by Massenet as Cendrillon, though both versions rely more on the French version of the tale) and Little Red Riding Hood by the American Seymour Barab. The Rossini opera is in the Met repertory, though not this season. Find recordings and videos and compare these approaches to such material with Humperdinck’s. 4. For a Bettelheim-influenced treatment of fairy tales in a stage work, see Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, available on CD, video, and many stagings from professional to high school. Hansel and Gretel is not among the many stories woven together here, but the contrast to Humperdinck’s tone will be readily apparent. Also, read Transformations, a book of poems by Ann Sexton based on the original Grimm tales with a modern psychoanalytic approach. Finally, Conrad Susa made an opera out of the Sexton poems, which was broadcast and telecast; though not issued commercially, recordings may be available. 5. Two other fairy tale operas on this season’s broadcasts are the Strauss57
Hofmannsthal Die Frau Ohne Schatten and the Ravel-Colette L’Enfant et les Sortileges (part of the French triple bill Parade). Both of these are based on "new," not "traditional" fairy tales (as is Mozart’s The Magic Flute - see last season’s study guide) and offer an interesting comparison to Hansel and Gretel. 6. Many other fairy tale operas, including Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden and Stravinsky’s The Nightingale, are based on the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, much different in feeling from the Grimms’ tales. Worth exploring ... 7. ...as are the many Broadway musicals, Hollywood films, and other adaptations of fairy tales both traditional and modern. 8. As for Humperdinck, listen to those excerpts from the works of Wagner that Conrad cites as influences on specific moments in Hansel and Gretel, and see if you agree. Also, listen to music by the earlier composers cited by Blyth (especially the Midsummer Night’s Dream music of Mendelssohn), and decide if he is right. 9. Design sets and costumes for a production of Hansel and Gretel. Try several approaches: realistic, or sentimental, or abstract, or expressionistic ... 10. By judicious cutting, you can stage a satisfying production of this opera yourself with a pianist and a few singers. The vocal parts are not technically difficult. Do it.
Using Hansel and Gretel to Teach Music by Jonathan Dzik
Motivation/Role Play Exercises (Note: Hansel und Gretel is a particularly effective opera to present to youngsters of an elementary school age.) Present the following situations to your classes for discussion: 1.If you and your brother (sister) went into a forest and got lost and it got dark and you couldn't find your way out, what are some of the dangers you might face? What are some of the things you might do to try to remain safe? How could you finally get out? (This is clearly what happens in Act I, scene ii in the opera.) 2. If you and your sister (brother) were captured or taken hostage by an evil person and you know (s)he was preparing to do bad things to you, how could you help each other to prevent this from happening? Devise a way to escape. (Act II, in the opera.) (Note to teacher: Since the Hansel und Gretel duets which are about to be described are based on simple folk tunes, try to get a copy of the score and teach the students to sing the main themes which are about to be presented. Or use the enclosed musical examples. Then when they hear them on a recording and perhaps see the performance in the opera house, those musical moments will be recognizable and much more meaningful.
Brother and Sister There is hardly a moment where the siblings in this famous adaptation of the Grimm story are not together on stage. Humperdinck wrote some delightful and beautiful duets for the two siblings. It should be noted, that even though Hansel is a boy, his role is sung by a woman, a mezzo-soprano. This is a fairly common practice in opera, where a young or adolescent boy is portrayed by a female. These roles are known as "trouser roles." 1."Suse, liebe Suse, was raschelt im Stroh?" ("Susie, little Susie what is that noise in the straw?") (Ex. #1).
This is the opening music in the opera after the overture. Hansel and Gretel, son and daughter of Peter (a broommaker) and Gertrude, are alone and very hungry. But nevertheless they work (he binds brooms and Gretel sews), play and quarrel in the best of sibling spirit. They sing an old German folk song about Suzy and her geese. (The melody has a close resemblance to a famous German folk song, "Ach du lieber Augustin" which is usually sung in English to the words, "Did you ever see a Lassie.") It is lightly scored for strings and woodwinds. Gretel has the first verse (Hansel chimes in with a short phrase near the end) and Hansel (with Gretel doing the same) sings the second verse. Toward the middle of the song, there is a hint of the "Evening Prayer" about which more will be said shortly. 2. This leads into a second duet--"Bruderchen, komm tanz' mit mir," ("Brother come and dance with me") (Ex. #2).
It is a simple folksong in 2/4 time. Gretel starts in the key of F major, and Hansel, being a lower voiced character, sings a 3rd lower in D minor. Gretel is teaching her brother a cute folk dance, "Mit den Fusschen tapp tapp tapp", ("With your foot you tap, tap, tap, ") Ex. #3.
They get carried away and after a while their voices overlap. The duet becomes very spirited until their mother interrupts them and castigates them for fooling around. 3. In the second scene, Hansel and Gretel are already in the forest. Their mother has sent them there to pick berries after their horseplay caused a pitcher of milk to topple and spill. Gretel sings a simple little folk song in which she likens a mushroom to a little man, "Ein Mannlein steht im Walde ganz still und stumm,"("A little man stands in the forest quiet and still") (Ex. #4). 60
It is almost a cappella, accompanied only by quiet plucked strings. This is meant to create a sense of being alone in the forest. It is not yet nightfall, so everything is peaceful and calm. The second verse adds a flute obbligato for embellishment as well as oboe and French horn interludes. 4. When night falls and they discover they can't find their way out of the forest, they kneel down and pray the famous "Evening Prayer", (Ex. #5).
This is the most famous theme in the opera. The overture opens and closes with this theme and eventually the opera ends with a short but full-scale choral treatment of this music. The melody rises in thirds as the two children harmonize with each other. Occasionally passing dissonances add to the poignancy of the music as it soars ever higher, ending one octave higher than where it started. The children fall asleep at the end of this prayer as 14 angels descend to keep watch over them. 5.In the second act, when Hansel and Gretel see the gingerbread house for the first time, they sing a harmonious duet in thirds, the most consonant harmony of all. They are beside themselves with the possibilities of having such a delectable treat to eat --"O herrlich Schlosschen, wie bist du schmuck und fein" ("O magic castle, how nice you'd be to eat.") (Ex. #6.)
6. In the final scene, after Hansel and Gretel have succeeded in turning the tables on the witch by pushing her into the oven, they sing a joyous duet, mostly in thirds, as they joyously waltz around the house--"Juchhei! Nun ist die Hexetot, mausetot, und aus die Not!" ("Hurrah, now sing the witch is dead, really dead, no more to dread! Hurrah!") (Ex. #7.) 61
The Supernatural: The first half of Hansel and Gretel deals essentially with real people--a mother and father who are destitute and two happy-go-lucky siblings who try to make the best of it. Even when they first run into the forest at their mother's bidding to pick berries, everything happens as a natural course of events. The first hint of the supernatural occurs when Peter, their father comes home to find out they went into the dangerous forest known as Ilsenstein where, according to a legend, a witch entices children with delectable goodies but eventually casts a wicked spell over them. We hear the ominous pounding of the timpani to the rhythm that will soon represent "The Witch's Ride", the interlude which separates the two main scenes of the first act. As the two parents run out into the forest after their children, the orchestra peals out with this theme (Ex. #8). Ominous trills, grace notes and a sinister rattle on the castanets all add to the eerie depiction.
To aid the children in going to sleep, the Sandman's sprinkles them with dust. Sung by a soprano, this scene features the legato descending melody which will make up the essence of the "Dream Pantomime" which shortly follows. Here, 14 angels descend and hover over them to protect them from all danger (Ex. #9).
In a reversal of melodic direction, the Dew Fairy awakens them with a lyrical ascending melody--"Ich komm' mit gold'nem Sonnenschein" ("I come with golden sunshine") (Ex. #10).
The witch herself has various musical personalities, from her first vocal appearance from within her house as the children are nibbling on its delicious walls--"Knusper, knusper Knauschen, wer knuspert mir am Hauschen?" ("Nibble, nibble, mousie, who's nibbling at my housie?") (Ex. #11).
She later casts a spell on the children, temporarily paralyzing them--"Hocus pokus Hexenschuss" ("Hocus pocus witches' charm") (Ex. #12).
As she contemplates having Hansel for dinner she seizes a broomstick and begins to ride upon it--"Hurr hopp hopp hopp, Galopp lopp lopp" (Ex. #13). The witch usually sings with a nasal tone, depicting her macabre character.
The final supernatural event occurs near the end after the witch has been pushed into the oven and Hansel and Gretel are free. With a wave of the magic wand, Hansel touches the life-size figures of children who look like gingerbread and had fallen under the evil witch's spell long ago. With this magic gesture, the children come to life and sing a joyous chorus of celebration (again in consonant thirds), whose music had been previewed earlier in the overture-"Die Hexerei ist nun vorbei" ("The spell is broken and we are free") (Ex. #14). As their parents Peter and Gertrude enter upon the scene, everyone joins in with the famous "Evening Prayer," music in praise of God's beneficence.
Too Grimm for Words Taming Hänsel und Gretel for opera
by Steven R. Cerf
One major literary achievement of the nineteenth century was the discovery of the child. Prior to the rise of Romanticism, childhood had been seen as some prehuman stage that had to be exorcised before reaching maturity; now it was increasingly understood as a deep, enduring basis of the adult personality. As William Wordsworth put it, "The child is father of the man." In Germany, this discovery dovetailed with a quest to understand the growth stages by which German culture itself had reached maturity from its earlier, more primitive origins in medieval and folk literature. The Grimm Brothers, sophisticated scholars, went into Germany's hinterland to collect 210 traditional fairy tales, issuing them as Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales); at the same time, poets Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim amassed 723 folk lyrics for their anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn). Both compilations appeared within a decade, between 1806 and 1815, and in both, the child emerged as a full-fledged human being. To some extent, the Grimms were ahead of their time. Twentieth-century psychologists fully comprehend the uncensored pre-moral fears and cravings of infancy that are acted out with such bloodthirsty relish in these traditional tales. "Hänsel und Gretel" is typical of the collection in being a Freudian chamber of horrors, giving voice to blind hatreds smoldering within the nuclear family. Mother (transformed into stepmother) is so eager to get rid of her children that she makes two attempts to lose them. Stranded in a dangerous forest, they fall into the hands of another destructive mother figure, the cannibalistic Witch. Such subject matter scarcely seems suitable for family opera, and it is not surprising that Engelbert Humperdinck and his sister, Adelheid Wette, altered it when adapting the story, first as an intimate home entertainment, then as a populist
post-Wagnerian music drama.
WOULD WILHELM AND JACOB GRIMM HAVE RECOGNIZED THEIR HANSEL AND GRETEL ONCE ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK (RIGHT) FINISHED SWEETENING IT?
To be sure, the opera's structure parallels that of the Grimm Märchen. In both, three different settings are crucial -- the impoverished broommaker's home, the gloomy forest, the Witch's gingerbread house. The moral of cooperation between brother and sister -- reflecting the actual relationship between composer and librettist -- remains the same. Hänsel comforts his sister in the forest, Gretel carries out the preparations for the Witch's demise. Their ever-present duets underscore the lesson that mutual assistance is their only key to survival. Furthermore, as in the fairy tale, the children's names are privileged. Although Humperdinck's score refers to the parents as Peter and Gertrud, and the Witch calls herself Rosina Daintymouth, only Hänsel and Gretel refer to each other by name. But how, in an opera intended to be gentle, somewhat spiritual and comically fantastical, were composer and librettist going to dispose of the tale's grislier aspects? In fact, they found their solution ready-made. Many of the Märchen in Grimm had already been efficiently bowdlerized by one Ludwig Bechstein (18011860), much revered in mid-nineteenth-century Germany, whose collections of fairy tales outsold those of the Grimms for many decades and were the preferred domestic version when Humperdinck was a child. While the Grimms presented the tales as German families actually told them, Bechstein issued them as he thought families ought to tell them. A pharmacist turned ducal librarian, a devout soul, naturalist, Freemason and father of six, Bechstein sought to spiritualize the stories, both by softening the grislier portions and by adding episodes of prayer and allusions to divine benevolence. Effusively likening the fairytale tradition to a "floating bird of paradise," he saw it as a "sacred," "everlasting" and "unalloyed" source of "popular moral philosophy." Born illegitimate, Bechstein had known only hardship as a child and therefore inevitably had an idealized view of fairy tales, regarding them not as Gothic horror stories but as uplifting lessons that would bring hope to children. "I know the golden morning of childhood only from the description of poets," he wrote. "The first eight years of my life are like a bad dream.... I had no father, and my mother ... left me with paid caretakers." Only at the age of nine, when he was taken in by an uncle, did he begin to enjoy a normal domestic atmosphere with his supportive foster family. Bechstein's "Snow White" does not conclude with the evil Queen being forced to dance herself to death in shoes filled with red-hot coals. She perishes instead because of the "worm of envy" gnawing at her heart, although Snow White tries to forgive her. His "Little Red Riding Hood" ends simply with the death of the Big Bad Wolf, unlike the Grimm version, whose epilogue depicts a second wolf being lured to his death. Moreover, countless executions gorily described in the Grimm tales are simply excised in Bechstein.
Bechstein conceived his "Hänsel und Gretel" in this gentler vein as well. The wicked stepmother is replaced by an overworked but conscience-stricken biological parent; the Witch, unlike the wholly terrifying creature of the Grimm collection, has a comic dimension; and the children repeatedly find consolation in prayer. Bechstein, as a foster child, was all too eager to turn the mother of his "Hänsel und Gretel" into a biological mother, for the poor man seriously worried about political correctness toward stepmothers. "Among the thousands of children who get their hands on books of fairy tales," he warned, "there must be the so-called stepchildren. When such a child -- after reading many a fairy tale in which stepmothers appear [the stepmothers are uniformly evil] -- feels that it has been somehow injured or insulted ... by its own stepmother, then that young person makes comparisons and develops a strong aversion to his guardian which ... disturbs the peace and happiness of an entire family." The Grimms' stepmother is delighted when Hänsel and Gretel disappear, but Bechstein's mother is conflicted and contrite, "not sure whether to scold or rejoice" after the children's first return from the woods. This relatively humane portrait clearly affected Humperdinck and Wette as they created Gertrud's brief but poignant Act I lament. The stepmother in Grimm is motivated by meanness as she tries to alienate her husband from his own children. In Bechstein, the parents, driven by dire poverty, take joint responsibility as they reluctantly send away the children they cannot properly support. (In the opera it is tamer still, with Gertrud sending them off to look for food.) As in Bechstein, the mother in the opera participates in the joyful final reunion, while in the Grimm version, the evil stepmother dies along with her surrogate, the Witch.
The Grimms' witch is a red-eyed pagan sorceress with a feral ability to smell her victims from afar.
Bechstein's witch, with her "big, big nose" and "grass-green eyes," is quasi-amusing, and the list of goodies she offers to the children ("biscuits and marzipan, sugar and milk, apples and nuts and delicate cakes") makes her quite appealing, temporarily, to young readers. Very different is the Grimms' red-eyed pagan sorceress, whose feral ability to smell victims from afar is described in detail. (Humperdinck and Wette go even further than Bechstein by eliminating the cannibalism: their witch's oven magically transforms children into edible morsels of gingerbread, and when it explodes, with her in it, the children are returned whole to the living.) Bechstein stresses that the witch's death is a proper reward for all of her misdeeds; needless to say, no such moralizing appears in the Grimm. The most startling divergence is Bechstein's emphasis on the children's religious faith. In Grimm, a forest is a forest -- a frightening place in which the children's worst fears are realized. In 67
Bechstein, it is rather a place ordained by God for contemplation and prayer, where the children find a peace denied them in their poverty-ravaged home. The first time they are lost, Hänsel comforts Gretel with the words "Dear God is at our side"; the second time, he states, "Dear God knows every path and will surely show us the right one." Clearly, the opera is imbued with Bechstein's form of piety. Indeed, its only consistent musical motif is the Evening Prayer (Abendsegen), heard as the first notes of the opera's overture, a piece Humperdinck called The Children's Life. This theme reappears in the luxuriant central finale when Hänsel and Gretel pray for fourteen angels to protect them in the forest, and it is woven into the quadruple counterpoint of the opera's conclusion when children and parents are reunited. The prayer's text, absent from both Grimm and Bechstein, is another piece of traditional Germanica. It first appeared on a tombstone dated 1324 and was included in the Des Knaben Wunderhorn collection.
HANSEL (RISË STEVENS) AND GERTRUDE (CLARAMAE TURNER) IN 1946-47 MET PRODUCTION
In order to establish a comfortable, familyfriendly tone, Humperdinck launches each of the opera's three scenes with a folk or folklike tune associated with well-known popular verses. "Suzy, little Suzy, now listen with care" (Scene 1) comes from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. "Now once upon a time in the wood alone" (Scene 2) is borrowed from the highly popular mid-nineteenth-century minstrel poet Hoffmann von Fallersleben (author of "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles"), and a familiar folk tune played by French horn begins the prelude to the final act. All three create a warmhearted atmosphere at odds with Grimm. One early listener who questioned this tone, curiously, was Gustav Ferdinand Humperdinck, father of the composer and librettist. Fearing that the opera failed to "ennoble" and "refine" the fairy tale sufficiently, he observed, "Perhaps the libretto should not have followed Bechstein so closely -- I find the Grimm version preferable." In the second half of the twentieth century, the senior Humperdinck's thesis has at last been tested. The composer Conrad Susa harrowingly dramatized "Hänsel und Gretel" and other Grimm tales in his first opera, Transformations (1973), based on a poetry cycle by Anne Sexton, who sets the stories in a Boston mental institution. Subtitled "Mother Love and Cannibalism," Susa's "Hansel and Gretel" episode reveals the witch and the stepmother to be the same devouring person. Here, the pathological horror inherent in Grimm comes to the fore, with subtext transformed into psychologically universal meta-text. We are a long way from
Humperdinck's sylvan repose, so deeply imbued with German Romanticism's Waldeinsamkeit (forest solitude). Yet one suspects that Humperdinck, despite his father's misgivings, was wise to reject unalloyed Grimm. Had Humperdinck provided grimmer music, one doubts that the opera would have achieved the same artistic and popular success. In capturing what the critic Jack Zipes termed Bechstein's "overt 'folksy' bourgeois appeal," Humperdinck's exuberant melos -- lovable, accessible, brimming over with psychological health -- provides its own justification.
PROF. CERF is Skolfield Professor of German at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine.
OPERA NEWS, December 28, 1996 Copyright © 1996 The Metropolitan Opera Guild, Inc.
SOME FACTS ABOUT THE METROPOLITAN OPERA Wallace K. Harrison, architect Cyril Harris, acoustical consultant This opera house is the 2nd home of the Metropolitan Opera. The 1st was located at Broadway and 39th St. The Met’s new home at Lincoln Center cost $49 million to build and construction took 4 years. The Met is the 2nd-deepest building in Manhattan. It consists of 10 floors: stage level, six floors above and three below, cushioned with anti-vibration pads for sound-proofing. The opera season generally runs from September to April, during which time the opera company puts on 7 performances a week (two on Saturdays) from a repertoire of 21-25 different operas. The auditorium can seat 3,800 people on five tiers, and there is standing room space for 253 people on various levels. There are no 90° angles anywhere in the auditorium, and the boxes have irregular, shell-patterned decorations. This design distributes sound evenly throughout the auditorium and prevents it from being “swallowed.” A single African rosewood tree was used to panel the walls. The tree, brought from London, was almost 100 ft. long and about 6 feet in diameter. The ceiling rises 72 feet above the orchestra floor and is covered with over 1 million 2-½-inch-square sheets of nearly transparent 23-carat gold leaf. Not only does the gold add to the glamour of the interior, but it is supposed to eliminate the need for maintenance and repainting. You’ll notice that the ceiling in the outer lobbies has a greenish color. These ceilings are covered with a Dutch alloy which contains copper and turns green when it tarnishes.
There are two house curtains in the auditorium: • •
Guillotine curtain - Made of gold velour, this curtain rises and descends vertically. Wagner curtain - This design was conceived by Richard Wagner and first used in 1886 in Bayreuth, Germany. It is a motorized tableau drape with adjustable speed. The existing curtain, woven of 1,150 yards of goldpatterned Scalamandre silk, was installed at the Met in 1990 and is the biggest Wagner curtain in the world.
The chandeliers are a gift from the Austrian government. The one central chandelier is 17ft. in diameter and is surrounded by 8 starbursts of varying sizes. The 12 satellite clusters can be raised to avoid blocking the stage. Altogether, the chandeliers contain over 3,000 light bulbs. Does your seat feel a little tighter than last time? Not all the chairs at the Met are the same size; they vary in width from 19 to 23 inches. This staggered seating arrangement provides the best possible sight lines. The conductor’s podium is motorized so that it can be adjusted to any height. It is equipped with cue lights that indicate when the curtain is ready to rise and a telephone line that connects to the stage manager’s post and the prompter’s box.
GLOSSARY Musical Terms and Definitions Definitions adagio
Indication that the music is to be performed at a slow, relaxed pace. A movement for a piece of music with this marking.
Indicates a fairly fast tempo.
A song for solo voice in an opera, with a clear, formal structure.
An operatic passage for solo voice, melodic but with no clearly defined form.
Man’s voice, with a range between that of bass and tenor.
Refers to the style cultivated in the 18th and 19th centuries in Italian opera. This demanded precise intonation, clarity of tone and enunciation, and a virtuoso mastery of the most flori passages.
The final short, fast section of a type of aria in 19th-century Italian opera.
A passage in which the solo instrument or voice performs without the orchestra, usually of an improvisatory nature.
A body of singers who sing and act as a group, either in unison or in harmony; any musical number written for such a group.
An elaborate and highly ornamented part for soprano voice, usually written for the upper notes of the voice. The term is also applied to those singers who specialize in the demanding technique required for such parts.
The director of a musical performance for any sizable body of performers.
Low-pitched woman’s voice.
Means “growing”, used as a musical direction to indicate that the music is to get gradually louder.
From the French word for “together”, this term is used when discussing the degree of effective teamwork among a body of performers; in opera, a set piece for a group of soloists. 72
The final number of an act, when sung by an ensemble
Italian for “strong” or “loud”. An indication to perform at a loud volume.
A simultaneous sounding of notes that usually serves to support a melody.
A piece of music played between the acts of an opera.
A break between the acts of an opera. The lights go on and the audience is free to move around.
A direction for smooth performance without detached notes.
Melodic element used by Richard Wagner in his operas to musically represent characters, events, ideas, or emotions in the plot.
The text of an opera.
Literally ‘master’; used as a courtesy title for the conductor, whether a man or woman.
A succession of musical tones (i.e., notes not sounded at the same time); the horizontal quality of music, often prominent and singable.
mezzo-soprano Female voice with a range between that of soprano and contralto
An Italian form in which the spoken word is also used, usually on a comedy theme. The French term “opera bouffe” describes a similar type, although it may have an explicitly satirical intent.
Italian for “serious opera”. Used to signify Italian opera on a heroic or dramatic theme during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
A light opera, whether full-length or not, often using spoken dialogue. The plots are romantic and improbable, even farcical, and the music tuneful and undemanding.
A piece of music preceding an opera.
pentatonic scale Typical of Japanese, Chinese, and other Far Eastern music, the pentatonic scale divides the octave into five tones and may be played on the piano by striking only the black keys.
pianissimo (pp) Very softly.
Meaning “flat”, or “low”. Softly, or quietly.
The location of a musical sound in the tonal scale; the quality that makes “A” different from “D”.
The leading woman singer in an operatic cast or company.
A piece of music that precedes another.
A style of sung declamation used in opera. It may be either accompanied or unaccompanied except for punctuating chords from the harpsichord.
A direct repetition of an earlier section in a piece of music, or the repeat of a song.
The written or printed book containing all the parts of a piece of music.
A song by a lover at the window of his mistress.
A part for unaccompanied instrument or for an instrument or voice with the dominant role in a work.
The high female voice; the high, often highest, member of a family of instruments.
The pace of a piece of music; how fast or how slow it is played.
A high male voice.
The main idea of a piece of music; analogous to the topic of a written paper, subject to exploration and changes.
Musical ornament consisting of the rapid alternation between the note and the note above it.
A sustained musical passage for three voices.
A type of “realism” in Italian opera during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in which the plot was on a contemporary, often violent, theme.
A description of how loud or soft a sound is.
MEMBERSHIP STANDARDS THE MET STAGES MEMBERSHIP PROGRAM REQUIRES THAT ALL STUDENTS WHO ATTEND REHEARSALS AT THE MET:
1. Are familiar with the opera’s story, and can relate its themes and situations to their own lives; 2. Are familiar with the opera’s music or musical style; 3. Learn to recognize and discuss the choices made by the directors, designers, conductors, and singer; 4. Will be able to make and justify their own artistic choices; 5. Are aware of Opera House etiquette and understand how to be good audience members.