“Hänsel und Gretel” in Croatia

croatianLogoEngelbert Humperdinck

Hänsel und Gretel

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From Thursday, December 4, 2014, one of the best works of the German composer Engelbert Humperdinck, opera Hansel and Gretel, is back on the repertoire. The librettist is Adelheid Wette after the famous story of the Grimm brothers. The stage director is Ivan Leo Lemo and the conductor is Sasa Britvic.gretel2

The music score is filled with lovely music and folk-like melodies. In history it held a significant role because it introduced, according to Josip Andreis aspirit of true, unfixed simple art, equally distanced from the Wagnerian symbolism and the brutality of the bloody Veristic jealousy into the German music of the late 19th century.gretel3

Humperdinck’s music draws on children’s songs and popular melodies of unknown origin, which incites childhood memories in listeners and spectators. Due to an exceptionally popular story and the freshness of the music expression, spontaneity and technical skilfulness, this work marked a turning point in German music opus and permanently holds a place in the world opera repertoire. The Zagreb audience had the opportunity to see the story of two siblings Hansel and Gretel, that are attracted to a house made of candy and are then imprisoned by an evil witch who wishes to eat them only two years after the opening night. Its last production, the fourth staging at the CNT Opera was in 2013, with Sasa Britvic as conductor and Ivan Leo Lemo as stage director. Respecting the fairytale-like literary model, this performance at first glance is attractive for its playfulness and colourfulness of the spectacle, but also presents the biggest omnipresent problems of the modern capitalist society.

gretel4Hansel and Gretel are very poor gypsy children who live on the outskirts of a metropolis, by a dump. Piles of garbage that are produced by certain people and the neediness of others in everything, in a discrete manner suggest the social class and racial awareness of the performance. While children in a neglected forest contaminated by garbage try to find food, they come upon a witch’s Disneyland in which resides a dressed-up witch who turns children into honey cookies in order to eat them or use them as building material. Even though it is very real in its critique of terms like capitalism, consumerism, manipulations, illusions, lies and luxury, this performance does not cease to be entertaining, funny and fairytale–like and is fun for all age groups. Ivanka Boljkovac, Helena Lucić Šego and Marija Kuhar Šoša with their impressive interpretations, connecting the musical and the stage aspect of the performance, in great part contributed to the exceptional success of this performance. The performance is in the Croatian language which additionally enables an easier following of the story.

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In 1881, the twenty-year old Engelbert Humperdinck became an associate of Richard Wagner in Bayreuth. The last two years of maestro’s life and the intensive cooperation on Parsifal left an inerasable trace on the artistic credo and style of the young composer. Ten years later, he completed his masterpiece opera Hänsel and Gretel inspired by the fairy-tale of the Grimm brothers. Humperdinck has kept Wagner’s compositional style and leitmotif. However, the fairy-tale opera (Märchenoper) reaches out for children’s songs and popular melodies whose origins are not known and seem to be lost through a haze of time. The result is fascinating music, as deep as a lake filled with German legends, but at the same time unusually close, because it calls out for childhood memories after which we have wondered off into the woods and fallen into the witch’s candy and gingerbread house.

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