Dad always said, “Don’t go into the woods!”

Scary woods, a house made of candy and a witch? Sounds like the perfect recipe for a Halloween treat! Pittsburgh Opera continues its 2018-2019 season with Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. Humperdinck’s compositional style is influenced by Richard Wagner and his colorful orchestrations definitely showcase Wagner’s impact. Humperdinck called his work a Märchenoper or fairy-tale opera, appropriate as its source material is the story by the Brothers Grimm. This opera also uses familiar German folk songs, including the famous “Evening Prayer,” sung by Hansel and Gretel in Act 2. Pittsburgh Opera’s production will be sung in English, not the original German, so it will be quite accessible for children and adults.

I have a soft spot for this opera as I was the music director and pianist for a modified version with Virginia Opera that we performed in schools throughout the state. In one school year, I played this show 300 times! Let’s just say the melodies linger with me, and I think they will with you as well.

Explore more about Hansel and Gretel through the CD, DVD and book recommendations on this list. Maybe I will see you at the opera. I’ll leave a trail of breadcrumbs for you!

Hansel and Gretel

Jennifer Larmore and Ruth Ziesak portray the siblings in this recording and Hildegard Behrens, most known for Wagnerian roles, sings the role of the Mother.

Hansel and Gretel

Lucia Popp and Brigitte Fassbaender sing the title roles in this classic recording conducted by Sir Georg Solti.

Hansel and Gretel

Alice Coote and Christine Schäfer are Hansel and Gretel and tenor Philip Landridge plays the Witch.  This Metropolitan Opera production features the surrealistic sets of John Macfarlane and is sung in an English translation by David Poutney.

Hansel and Gretel

Brigitte Fassbaender and Edita Gruberova play the title characters and the wonderful baritone Hermann Prey sings the Father.

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales 

Bettelheim, a Freud scholar, analyzes classic fairy tales according to Freud’s methods. The author believes that fairy tales, even the scary ones, can teach children about the struggles in life and provide models for behavior. Hansel and Gretel is a fine story for Bettelheim’s theories with its plot line of children being cast into the forest by their angry mother, getting lost in the forest and fighting against an evil witch. Scary indeed!