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Hänsel and Gretel - Evening prayer and dream sequence

on Mon, 09/28/2009 - 17:46

Hänsel and Gretel are hungry and lost. Their mother sent them into the woods in anger after they accidentally spilled the milk - the only food their family had. They picked berries, but Hänsel couldn't help himself and ate them all (he's only a boy!) Darkness has fallen and they've just been visited by the sandman who has made them very tired. Before they fall asleep they say an evening prayer, asking for protection during the night.

When at night I go to sleep
Fourteen angels watch do keep,
Two my head are guarding,
Two my feet are guiding,
Two are on my right hand,
Two are on my left hand,
Two who warmly cover,
Two who o'er me hover,
Two to whom is given
To guide my steps to Heaven.

In the opera, by Engelbert Humperdinck, there then follows an extended orchestral pantomime which is one of the outstanding moments in all classical music. Each opera production does something different with it. The first production I saw revealed a ladder ascending to heaven lined with 14 angels. The Royal Opera House production (clips below) shows the children dreaming. The guardians - half angel half forest creatures - give way to a scene in a home, where a loving father and mother have beautiful presents for Hänsel and Gretel. The treasure inside? Watch for yourselves to see. But listen, too. Listen to what that presents mean. Listen, even as your eyes see, because it is the music which embodies the hearts and souls of the children.

This opera never fails to rip my heart to shreds. The innocence of the children, the terror of being lost in the woods, feeling forsaken by their parents, and the overwhelming pain of hunger all come through in the music. They are so exposed, so alone, and the biggest danger (the Witch!) still lies in front of them. But the music, over all of the darkness and worry, speaks a language of pure beauty and hope. It proclaims with every note the love and divine goodness of our existence.