Gwyneth Jones, James King, Kurt Moll, Horst R Laubenthal, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Christof Perick (conductor)
'Notre Dame' immediately evokes the hunchbacked bellringer, Quasimodo, and the films with Charles Laughton and Anthony Quinn; one remembers a gruesome, bloodthirsty tale from the late Middle Ages about deformed people, gypsies, villains, knights and priests. With their precise feel for the psychology of the plot, Franz Schmidt and his librettist Leopold Wilk condensed and modified the story and shifted its emphasis. In his novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo's prime intent was to portray 19th-century Paris (with Notre Dame Cathedral as the symbolic main character) and to express his social concern for outcasts and the aesthetic and moral worth of ugliness. The opera is dominated neither by Paris, nor by Quasiomodo (of the five main characters, he has the smallest part), but by Esmeralda. She is at the centre of the web of stories which make up the plot. The four principal male characters, Phoebus, Gringoire, the Archdeacon and Quasimodo, have one thing in common - their love for Esmeralda. Men seem to be irresistibly attracted to her, even 'bewitched'. The lives of these four men are changed and later destroyed by their passion for Esmeralda. Meeting her has disastrous consequences for everyone: her effect on men and on the ensuing events reminds one of Lulu's. She is in essence the innocent sister of child-woman Lulu - the subject Frank Wedekind's plays Erdgeist (Earth Spirit, 1895) and Die Buchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box, 1904) - although Alban Berg was not to write his shocking opera for another thirty years. But also, though much less morally compromised, of Emile Zola's courtesan Nana (1880).
Schmidt Notre Dame