Humperdinck's reputation rests chiefly on his opera Hänsel and Gretel, which he began work on in Frankfurt in 1890. He first composed four songs to accompany a puppet show his nieces were giving at home. Then, using a libretto by his sister Adelheid Wette rather loosely based on the version of the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, he composed a Singspiel of 16 songs with piano accompaniment and connecting dialogue. By January 1891 he had begun working on a complete orchestration. The opera premiered in Weimar on 23 December 1893, under the baton of Richard Strauss, who called it: "a masterpiece of the highest quality… all of it original, new, and so authentically German.
When Gretel falls under a dark spell and organizes a coven of witches, Hansel must find the courage to fight his twin sister and the sinister forces controlling her.