Like many of the folk tales that the German brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, collected in the 19th century - including Cinderella, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White andThe Frog Prince - the haunting saga of Hansel and Gretel has continued to be told, to be read and to be filmed. One of humanity’s most enduring stories, today it’s printed in more than 100 languages.
It is a dark tale of hardship and hunger, of children abandoned by their parents and of an evil old woman who preys on the young. But, as writer Neil Gaiman says: “If you are protected from dark things, then you are unprepared to deal with dark things if ever they show up. I think it’s important to show dark things to kids—and in the showing of them, to also demonstrate that dark things can be beaten, that you have the power to fight back, that you can win.”
The obvious lesson to be learned from Hansel and Gretel is to “never take candy from a stranger”. But, in truth, this unsettling story - collected by the Grimm brothers in 1812 – was never designed as a moral tale but rather as a reflection on the fact that in medieval times - during periods of famine - many families were forced to abandon their children.
When unusually heavy rain began to fall in Europe, during the spring of 1315, the crops failed, the cost of food rose and people began to go hungry. The rain continued throughout the summer. People ate edible roots, plants, and tree bark: anything to stay alive. Domestic animals were butchered, seed grain was consumed, children were abandoned to fend for themselves and many elderly people refused to eat so that their grandchildren might survive. Many incidents of cannibalism were reported.
Seven hundred years later, children still disappear; war and catastrophic weather still result in terrible hardship and starvation. There is a lot that is familiar today in Hansel and Gretel.
Now re-imagined by director, Rodney Fisher AM, to encompass both its historical basis and its current relevance, the story is being told at the Opera House by the wonderfully charismatic Amanda Muggleton. The outstanding duo - violinist Victoria Jacono-Gilmovich and pianist, John Martin – provide the dazzling musical accompaniment, which is the work of the brilliant Australian composer, Elena Kats-Chernin.