As mentioned, the work was a huge success after its premiere, with performances cropping up all over Germany and then the whole of Europe. The work also became associated with an unexpected tradition: it has been linked with Christmas ever since its December 23rd
premiere. In fact, December 2019 saw 107 performances of Hansel and Gretel
in Germany alone. In addition, Hansel and Gretel
is also important to the history of opera on the radio, as it was the first opera to be broadcast live for both the Royal Opera House in 1923 and the Metropolitan Opera in 1931. The work is in the repertory of every major opera house in the world, and has also had tremendous success on regional stages. One need only plug Humperdinck’s name into Operabase to see the upcoming twenty-eight worldwide productions from Austria to Africa in the next year alone.
But what ever happened to Humperdinck? His success with Hansel and Gretel
gave him lifelong financial security, but beyond lifestyle comforts he was never able to recapture the opera’s magic. While he would go on to write more operas and enjoy a successful career as a professor in Berlin, none of Humperdinck’s later compositions reached the success of Hansel and Gretel
. A couple decades later, Humperdinck had a heart attack while attending a production of Weber’s Der Freischütz
, a staging that his son Wolfram was directing. He died the next day, and a few weeks later was memorialized in a production of Hansel and Gretel
by the Berlin State Opera. While Hansel and Gretel
lives on, Humperdinck has joined the ranks of other (arguable) classical one-hit wonders like Fučík, Delibes, Dukas, and Pachelbel.
At the end of the day, what makes Hansel and Gretel
odd has little to do with the opera itself and everything to do with its inexplicable success. The work seemed to break through in a way that other operas at the time could not, establishing a success that any composer in any era would envy. That said, many who hear the name ‘Humperdinck’ may think of the English pop singer who stole the composer’s name, which just goes to show that no matter how successful Hansel and Gretel
was, Humperdinck has ultimately continued to dwell in the obscurity of his era.
– Tanner Cassidy
Linda Cantoni, “Hänsel and Gretel,” in Encyclopedia Britannica
Andrew Clements, “Engelbert the First” in The Guardian,
History of the Deutsches Nationaltheater in Weimar, https://www.nationaltheater-weimar.de/en/ueber-uns/geschichte.php
Daphne Leong, “Humperdinck and Wagner: Metric States, Symmetries, and Systems” in the Journal of Music Theory (