The activities in this guide look at several aspects of Hansel and Gretel:
the stark social realism, which adds heft to this fairy tale;
the composer’s use of leitmotifs, or distinct musical themes, to guide listening and enhance understanding; and
the opera as a work of art, involving a wide range of creative decisions by the composer, the librettist, and the artists of the Metropolitan Opera.
The guide seeks not only to acquaint students with Hansel and Gretel, but also to encourage them to think more broadly about opera, the performing arts, and creative decision-making. Little prior knowledge is required for the activities.
Food for Thought
When adolescents hear about an opera called Hansel and Gretel, they may assume it’s a story for preschoolers. Nothing could be further from the truth. In this activity, students will hear how key dramatic moments in Humperdinck’s work turn on food, on hunger, and on gluttony. They will:
create a “food graph,” a visual representation of the food theme in the opera;
figure out how to express their views on a contemporary social issue in retelling a familiar tale; and
acquaint themselves with the plot and some of the music in Hansel and Gretel in advance of the Met’s Live in HD transmission.
Making "Leit" of a Serious Concern
In a common version of Hansel and Gretel, the two children leave a trail of bread crumbs as they walk through the woods, so that they will be able to find their way home—but they’re foiled when birds eat all the bread crumbs. There’s no such trail in the opera, but Humperdinck leaves “bread crumbs” of his own in the form of leitmotifs—recurring bits of music associated with particular characters or moods. In this activity, students will explore the use of leitmotifs in Hansel and Gretel. They will:
identify leitmotifs within longer listening selections;
consider how such patterns bring added dimension to a work of art;
interpret combinations of leitmotifs from Hansel and Gretel; and
become familiar with some of the musical elements of the opera in advance of the Live in HD transmission.