Opera and Ballet Stories in Music    

Lesson 3: Hansel and Gretel - Act 1, Scene 3

by Engelbert Humperdinck

Performer: Alexander Murray


Peter, Broom-maker.

Gertrude, his wife.

Hansel, their son.

Gretel, their daughter.

The Witch who eats children.

Sandman, the Sleep Fairy.

Dewman, the Dawn Fairy.


The Fourteen Angels.



(A voice is heard in the distance.)

Tralala, tralala! little mother, here am I!

Tralala, tralala! bringing luck and jollity!

(Rather nearer.)

O, for you and me, poor mother,

every day is like the other.

with a big hole in the purse,

and in the stomach an even worse.

Tralala, tralala!

Hunger is the poor man's curse!

Tralala, tralala!

Hunger is the poor man's curse!

(The father appears at the window, and during the following he comes into the room in a very happy mood, with a basket on his back.)


'Tisn't much that we require,

just a little food and fire!

But alas! it's true enough,

life on some of us is rough!

Hunger is a customer tough! (or)

Yes, the rich enjoys his dinner,

while the poor grows daily thinner!

Strives to eat, as well he may,

somewhat less than yesterday!


Tralala, tralala!

hunger is the devil to pay!

Tralala, tralala!

hunger is the devil to pay!

(He puts down his basket.)

Yes, hunger's all very well to feel,

if you can get a good square meal.

but when there's naught, what can you do,

supposing the purse be empty too?

Tralalala, tralalala!

O for a drop of mountain dew!

Tralalala, tralalala!

Mother, look what I have brought!

(Reels over to his sleeping wife and gives her a smacking kiss.)

MOTHER (rubbing her eyes).


Who's sing-sing-singing

all around the house,

and tra-la-la-ing me

out of my sleep?

FATHER (inarticulately).

How now!—

The hungry beast

within my breast

called so for food

I could not rest!

Tralala, tralala!

Hunger is an urgent beast!

Tralala, tralala!

pinches, gnaws, and gives no rest!


So, so!

And this wild beast,

you gave him a feast.

He's had his fill,

to say the least!


Well, yes! H'm! it was a lovely day,

don't you think so, dear wife?

(Wants to kiss her.)


Mother (pushing him angrily away, excitedly).

Have done! You have no troubles to bear,

'tis I must keep the house!


Well, well,—then let us see, my dear,

what we have got to eat today.


Most simple is the bill of fare,

our supper's gone, I know not where!

Larder bare, cellar bare,

nothing, and plenty of it to spare!


Tralalala, tralalala!

Cheer up, mother, for here am I,

bringing luck and jollity!

(He takes his basket and begins to display he contents.)

Look, mother, doesn't all this food please you?


Man, man, what see I?

Ham and butter,

flour and sausage—

eggs, a dozen....

(Husband, and they cost a fortune!)

Turnips, onions, and—for me!

Nearly half a pound of tea!


Tralala, tralala,

hip hurrah!

Won't we have a festive time!

Tralala, hip hurrah!

Won't we have a happy time!

Now listen how it all came about!

FATHER (turns the basket topsy-turvy, and a lot of potatoes roll out. He seizes her by the arm and dances around the room. Sits down. Meanwhile the mother packs away the things, lights a fire, breaks eggs into a saucepan, etc.).

Yonder to the town I went,

there was to be a great event,

weddings, fairs, and preparation

for all kinds of jubilation!

Now's my chance to do some selling,

and for that you may be thankful!

He who wants a feast to keep,

he must scrub and brush and sweep.

So I brought my best goods out,

tramped with them from house to house:

"Buy besoms! good besoms!

Buy my brushes! sweep your carpets,

sweep your cobwebs!"

And so I drove a roaring trade,

and sold my brushes at the highest prices!

Now make haste with cup and platter,

bring the glasses, bring the kettle—

here's a health to the besom-maker!


Here's a health to the besom-maker!


But stay, why, where are the children?

Hansel, Gretel, what's gone with Hans?


Gone with Hans? O, who's to know?

But at least I do know this,

that the jug is smashed to bits.


What! the jug is smashed to bits?


And the cream all run away.

FATHER (striking his fist on the table in a rage).

Hang it all! So those little scapegraces

have been again in mischief!

MOTHER (hastily).

Been in mischief? I should think so!

Naught have they done but their mad pranking.

as I came home I could hear them

hopping and cutting the wildest capers,

till I was so cross that I gave a push—

and the jug of milk was spilt!


And the jug of milk was spilt!

Ha ha ha ha!

(Both laughing.)

Such anger, mother, don't take it ill,

seems stupid to me, I must say!

But where, where think you the children can be?

MOTHER (snappishly and curtly).

For aught I know, at the Ilsestein!

FATHER (horror-struck).

The Ilsestein! Come, come, have a care!

(Fetches a broom from the wall.)


The besom, just put it away again!

FATHER (lets the broom fall and wrings his hands).

My children astray in the gloomy wood,

all alone without moon or stars!


O Heaven!


Dost thou not know the awful magic place,

the place where the evil one dwells?

MOTHER (surprised).

The evil one! What mean'st thou?

FATHER (with mysterious emphasis).

The gobbling ogress!

(The mother draws back, the father takes up the broom again.)


The gobbling ogress!

But—tell me, what help is the besom!


The besom, the besom, why what is it for?

They ride on it, they ride on it, the witches!

An old witch within that wood doth dwell

and she's in league with the powers of hell.

At midnight hour, when nobody knows,

away to the witches' dance she goes.

Up the chimney they fly,

on a broomstick they hie—

over hill and dale,

o'er ravine and vale,

through the midnight air

they gallop full tear—

on a broomstick, on a broomstick,

hop hop, hop hop, the witches!


O horror!

But the gobbling witch?


And by day, they say, she stalks around,

with a crinching, crunching, munching sound,

and children plump and tender to eat

she lures with magic gingerbread sweet.

On evil bent,

with fell intent,

she lures the children, poor little things,

in the oven red-hot

she pops all the lot.

she shuts the lid down

until they're done brown,

in the oven, in the oven,


the gingerbread children!


And the gingerbread children?


Are served up for dinner!


For the ogress?


For the ogress!


O horror!

Heav'n help us! the children!

O what shall we do?

(Runs out of the house.)


Hi, mother, mother, wait for me!

(Takes the whisky bottle from the table and follows her.)

We'll both go together the witch to seek!

(The curtain falls quickly.)

    Opera and Ballet Stories in Music    

Lesson 3: Hansel and Gretel - Act 1, Scene 3

by Engelbert Humperdinck

Performer: Alexander Murray


Study the musical selection for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read the synopsis.
  • Review any vocabulary terms.
  • Read about the composer.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Hansel and Gretel's father, Peter the Broom-maker, is heard in the distance belting out a joyous song. He enters the home in a joyful mood. Peter wakes up his unhappy wife, Gertrude, to tell her that he has sold all his brooms at the fair for splendid prices. Peter shows Gertrude his basket full of provisions. Both are thus in fine humor until Peter asks where the children are. Gertrude says she sent them away in disgrace to the Ilsestein. 'The Ilsestein!' Peter says to his wife. 'Where the witches ride on broomsticks and devour little children?' Screaming "Oh horror!" Gertrude runs out of the house, Peter hurrying after her, to find Hansel and Gretel [1].


Ilsestein: A well-known rock formation in the German mountains of Harz.
Ogress: A female brutish giant from folk tales that eats human flesh.
Besom: A broom made from a bundle of twigs tied onto a shaft.
Gingerbread: A type of cake whose main flavoring is ginger.


  1. Engelbert Humperdinck was born in 1854 in Siegburg, Germany. Examine his picture.
  2. Zoom in and find Humperdinck's country of birth on the map of Europe below.
  3. Humperdinck took piano lessons starting at a young age and wrote his first composition at the age of seven.
  4. Humperdinck's parents disapproved of his music aspirations, wanting him to become an architect.
  5. Humperdinck persevered, earning a scholarship to study music and eventually becoming a music professor at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, Germany.
  6. Humperdinck died at the age of 67 after suffering two heart attacks.


Activity 1: Recite the Opera Information

  • Recite the name of the composer, the name of the opera, and the act and scene(s) of the opera.

Activity 2: Recite the Dramatis Personae

Read aloud the Dramatis Personae.

  • Peter, Broom-maker.
  • Gertrude, his wife.
  • Hansel, their son.
  • Gretel, their daughter.
  • The Witch who eats children.
  • Sandman, the Sleep Fairy.
  • Dewman, the Dawn Fairy.
  • Children.
  • The Fourteen Angels.

Activity 3: Listen to the Opera While Reading the Text

  • Select roles to read as desired.
  • Play the opera music softly in the background.
  • Read aloud the scene according to your selected roles.

Activity 4: Narrate the Lesson

  • Narrate the lesson events aloud in your own words.

Activity 5: Interpret a Quote Regarding Opera [2]

Regarding opera, early composer Christoph Willibald Gluck wrote:

  • 'The true mission of music is to second the poetry, by strengthening the expression of the sentiments and increasing the interest of the situations, without interrupting and weakening the action by superfluous ornaments in order to tickle the ear and display the agility of fine voices.'

With the help of your instructor, deconstruct the quote and describe in your own words what you think Gluck meant.


  1. 'Metropolitan Opera House Grand Opera Libretto Hansel und Gretel - A Fairy Opera in Three Acts by Adelheid Wette (CC0 1.0)' Archive.org. https://archive.org/details/hnselgretelfai00humpuoft/. n.p.
  2. 'The Complete Opera Book' by Gustav Kobbé (CC0 1.0). Gutenberg.org. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/40540/40540-h/40540-h.htm. n.p.