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Work of the Week – Krzysztof Penderecki: Die Teufel von Loudun

Work of the Week – Krzysztof Penderecki: Die Teufel von Loudun

A psychological thriller on the opera stage – the opera Die Teufel von Loudun by Krzysztof Penderecki could certainly receive such an introduction. On June 27, 2022, the piece will premiere in a new production by Simon Stone at the Bayerische Staatsoper, with Vladimir Jurowski as musical director.

A criminal case from the 1630s forms the basis of Penderecki's Die Teufel von Loudun. Urbain Grandier, priest of the small French town Loudun, falls out of favour with the community because he doesn't take his celibacy seriously, culminating in an affair with a minor. At the same time, he also made himself unpopular with the political rulers, advocating the preservation of the town's fortifications and thus against its subordination to the capital, Paris. 


A victim of his political beliefs or his instincts? – Krzysztof Penderecki’s Die Teufel von Loudun

The mentally unstable prioress of the local monastery is torn between confused erotic fantasies about the priest and disgust for him. She turns to her confessor, a political opponent of Grandier, for help, and a tangle of intrigues begins. At the end of the drama, Grandier dies in agony at the stake. Penderecki's composition, rich in tone clusters and atonal extremes, contributes significantly to the constantly increasing suspense typical of a thriller:

It seems to say something about Penderecki's music that it has been used in many films to create an uneasy atmosphere, even a feeling of increasing madness. […] Penderecki is one of the composers who invented a music that functions as a mirror of the darkest side of human beings. Simon Stone 

First performed on June 20, 1969, Die Teufel von Loudun represents a milestone in modern musical theatre. A work that not only stands out in terms of content, but also musically due to its radical compositional style. The Bayerische Staatsoper is showing Penderecki's opera in the current season in three further performances on June 30th, July 3rd and July 7th and will present it as a revival in spring 2023.


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photo: Wilfried Hösl