Hänsel and Gretel was initially a set of four songs that Englebert Humperdinck wrote at the request of his sister, Adelheid Wette, for her children. After the four songs, Humperdinck expanded the songs to a singspiel and eventually a full opera. The opera premiered in Weimar, Germany on December 23, 1893.
Using the Grimm Brothers’ Hänsel and Gretel as inspiration, the opera is a little softer and lighter than the original story and features new characters. The opera begins with Hänsel and Gretel taking a break from chores to cause a little trouble. When their mother, Gertrude, catches them playing instead of doing chores, she chases them out the house and orders them to pick strawberries in the woods. Alone in the woods, Hänsel and Gretel notice strange lights and shadows and become scared. They find a gingerbread house and begin to eat it before getting caught by the inhabitant of the house, the witch, who plans to fatten Hänsel and Gretel up before eating them. Turning the witch’s tricks against her, Hänsel and Gretel are able to escape from the witch’s house.