Engelbert Humperdinck, the 19th-century composer who studied with European giants such as Richard Wagner, shouldn’t be confused with the Tom Jones-contemporary pop singer Engelbert Humperdinck.
No, this is the original Engelbert Humperdinck. Born in 1854, the young composer most famously turned the Brothers Grimm fairytale Hansel & Gretel into a beloved, approachable opera. Begun as accompaniment to a puppet show his nieces were staging, Humperdinck’s turn at the tale went through many phases—including a go-round as an engagement gift to his fiancee—before growing into a fully orchestrated opera after nearly three years of work. The resulting masterpiece first was conducted under the baton of Richard Strauss in 1893, and has been celebrated for more than 100 years by both critics and audiences alike.
Utah Opera’s staging of this traditional moral fable—about two children recklessly put in harm’s way by the adults charged with protecting them—combines a magical set of dark forests and candy cottages with the Wagnerian grandeur of Humperdinck’s composition. That musical juxtaposition of larger-than-life sound mixed with the simple rhythms and melodies of Germanic folk songs adds notable warmth to the triumph of innocence over a cannibalistic witch (played by Jennifer Roderer, pictured).
Such a feat proves that no matter how much modern cultural cachet the other Engelbert Humperdinck might brag, he couldn’t pack an operatic punch close to the original.