Vera Lengsfeld

Vera Lengsfeld, born in East Germany, was member of the German Bundestag, co-founder of the Citizen's Bureau for the Persecuted of the GDR Regime, winner of the 1990 Aachen Peace Prize.

Source: Markus Wissmann / Played in Stuttgart by a black actress: Gypsy Esmeralda from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"

'Hunchback' musical in Stuttgart:How the Arts are Contributing to Brainwashing

Criticism contravened the guidelines

Dear Ms Lengsfeld,

My daughter is a fan of musicals. This may sound familiar to you. The men don't want to go, and that's why we sometimes have a nice mother-daughter evening in the SI-Centrum in Stuttgart, not too far away. Beautiful music, a great set, great artists, a good opportunity to just relax.

It wasn’t relaxing last time. The reason for this is that I don't want to hear any political messages when I go to a musical. The ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ at the SI Centre was adapted to the political zeitgeist. Unlike the French version, it departs considerably from the original version by Victor Hugo. Hugo doesn’t always depict Notre Dame's Catholic archdeacon as a bad character – in Stuttgart he was. Yeah, we know, the awful Catholic Church.

This isn’t going to end well. Right at the beginning of the musical, Frollo sounds off from the stage that “foreigners, criminals” are present at the festival of fools, and that one should “close the borders.” In the Middle Ages is was more likely to be city gates . . . and, as my daughter very quietly whispered to me, she didn’t find it all that appropriate that Esmeralda was played by a black actress. That wasn’t meant to be at all racist. It’s just that a gypsy woman isn’t usually black . . . We quietly discussed our politically incorrect feelings during the break over a non-alcoholic cocktail.

Somehow the choice of actresses seemed intentionally political, and this annoyed me. Can we no longer even enjoy art without being indoctrinated? I grew up in the West. But that's how I imagine the GDR was like.

A little later I read the completely harmless musical reviews at Tripadvisor and decided to pursue my right to freedom of expression. So I wrote: “My daughter is a big musical fan, and we've been to the SI-Centrum in Stuttgart before. Compared to other musicals, 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' is rather mediocre. There is only one set, which is beautifully designed, but not very varied (for example in comparison with 'Tarzan' or 'Dance of the Vampires'). The music isn't so catchy, and since I know the Canadian-French version, I was disappointed that the songs aren't the same. I thought it would be the same all over the world. The French version also keeps more closely to the gypsy theme, with a lot of guitar music and melodically as well. Vocally, the actors in Stuttgart are good, but can also not compare with the French-Canadian version. But what really disturbed and annoyed me is that Stuttgart absolutely combines a current political message with the musical. Again, a comparison with the French version: Gringoire, the historian, tells of vagabonds outside the city gates; in Stuttgart it is the Catholic deacon Frollo, who is portrayed in a negative manner throughout, who swaggers with hostile words about ‘criminals’ and ‘foreigners’ as well as ‘closing borders.’ I read on the net afterwards that the musical has a ‘distinct current message.’ Apart from the fact that historically it should be city gates and not borders, I find one-sided political messages in a musical unbearable – if that’s what I want to hear, I’ll go to an explicitly political event and not to the SI-Centrum for entertainment!

Accordingly, Frollo is portrayed only negatively and has little to do with the original version of Victor Hugo, where he shows himself torn between his feelings for Esmeralda and his vow of chastity. Although the actress who embodies Esmeralda has a beautiful voice and can dance well – and I personally like to see black actresses – in this context it seems a bit artificial and again politically forced that the gypsy Esmeralda is not represented by an actress who, if need be, wears some make-up and a dark wig.”

You’ve probably guessed it: Tripadvisor writes that unfortunately my criticism cannot be published. It violates the guidelines. If that's not GDR 2.0 . . .

Translated from eigentümlich frei, where the original article was published on 1st September 2018.

Support Us

You can read equity & freedom for free, but making it costs real money. So please support us!

Donors will be given exclusive access to the comment section.