Deeper Into Jeopardy! XXI: Opera Characters – $800

Jeopardy! category: OPERA CHARACTERS (13-06-2014)

$800 clue: 14 guardian angels descend a ladder to protect this brother & sister in the woods

Correct response

The gist: It’s pretty handy to have 14 angels to protect you in the forest after you’ve just been put to sleep by a mysterious figure known as the “Sandman.” 

In the opera by Engelbert Humperdinck (the German composer, not the English singer who adopted his name), Hansel and Gretel have entered the haunted Ilsenstein forest to pick strawberries for their starving family. After fighting over the last of the berries, they realize it’s too dark to find their way back – no breadcrumbs in this story – and the Sandman comes out of the woods to put them to sleep. In their dream, the 14 angels stand in a ring around the children to protect them from the horrors of the woods, and when they’re woken up by the Dew Fairy, they see a lovely gingerbread house inhabited by an ugly witch. After a series of kerfuffles, in which Hansel gets put in a cage to fatten up and Gretel incapacitates the witch with her own wand, the witch gets stuffed in the oven and turned into gingerbread herself. The family rejoices that God has finally provided for them as they chow down on the witch’s remains, and Gretel removes the curse that has turned the other children the witch has lured away into gingerbread men.

But if you can believe it, this story of imprisonment and cannibalism is actually considerably cleaned up from the Brothers Grimm version of the tale. In that one, instead of a loving mother, H and G have a horrible stepmother, who convinces their father to leave them in the woods to die because they can’t afford to feed them. As well, the witch doesn’t turn into any gingerbread – she just screams in pain until she dies, whereupon the kids find a vase filled with treasure. Yeah, those old stories were weird.

The libretto for a 1905 Broadway production of Hansel und Gretel

The clue: The 14 angels is a pretty specific scene to this one opera, so it would take a pretty big opera buff to get this clue based on that alone. Luckily, the writers have put two big hints in there for us: that it’s a brother and sister pair, and that they’re in the woods. There are certainly other stories about siblings being in the forest together, but Hansel and Gretel is probably the best-known – and if you happen to know that they’ve been given operatic treatment, all the better. (I didn’t.)

In Jeopardy!: The title siblings appear in 29 clues in the J!Archive. Mr. Humperdinck is mentioned in ten clues, even more than the Grimms, who get only 8. Gingerbread is in seven, and the witch who lives in it is in 11. Generally, in a clue about the pair you’ll get one of the things above plus some other fairy tale trope: the witch or the forest or (of course) a fairy. Keep those in mind and you won’t have too much trouble.

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