Hansel and Gretel are meant to be working, but are bored and hungry. Gretel tells Hansel that their mother has been given a jug of milk and will make a rice pudding for supper. Hansel tries to steal the cream and Gretel scolds him. Brother and sister decide to stop work, and have some fun. Their mother, Gertrud, returns home to find them dancing, and is angry. She accidentally knocks over the jug of milk. Now there is no supper, so Gertrud sends the children out into the forest to find strawberries. Gertrud is exhausted and depressed, and worried about her family’s poverty.
The children’s father, Peter, returns, cheerful after a successful day’s work selling brooms. Gertrud at first suspects he is drunk, but is overjoyed when she sees the vast quantities of food he has purchased. Peter wonders where the children are, and Gertrud explains that she has sent Hansel and Gretel out into the forest. Peter is worried, and tells Gertrud about the terrifying witch who lives there, who lures children into her home to eat them. The parents hurry off to find their children.
Gretel makes a garland of flowers while Hansel gathers strawberries. Hansel crowns Gretel queen of the forest. The children hear a cuckoo and mimic it. They pretend to be cuckoos themselves, and feed each other strawberries until they are all gone. Gretel worries that their mother will be angry with them. She tries to look for more berries, but it is too dark.
Hansel and Gretel realize they are lost. The sound of their voices echoing scares them. The tiny Sandman arrives, and soothes the children with a song. Hansel and Gretel become sleepy. They say their evening prayers and fall asleep. Fairytale creatures from the forest come to watch over them.
The Dew Fairy arrives to wake up the children. Hansel and Gretel tell each other about their mysterious and marvellous dreams. They now feel ready for anything.
Suddenly the children see a house appear as if by magic. It is partly edible, and they can’t resist it. As Hansel and Gretel nibble at the house, they hear a voice, and the Witch emerges. She tells the children that her name is Rosina Leckermaul and invites them in.
When Hansel and Gretel try to run away, the Witch stops them with a spell. She traps Hansel, orders Gretel to lay the table and eagerly anticipates her forthcoming meal. The Witch decides that Hansel isn’t fat enough to eat yet and must be fed. While she does this, Gretel steals her magic wand to free Hansel. The Witch asks Gretel to check how her baking is doing. Gretel pretends that she doesn’t know what to do. When the Witch demonstrates, Hansel and Gretel push her into the huge bowl of chocolate mixture.
Children who the Witch trapped and blinded appear. Hansel and Gretel restore their sight by touching them, and Hansel frees them using the Witch’s wand. Hansel and Gretel’s parents arrive to find their children safe and happy. The family are overjoyed
to be together again, and everyone celebrates.
Courtesy of Royal Opera, Covent Garden