Opera Scotland

Devils of Loudun The Devils of Loudun


Krzysztof Penderecki (Born Debica, 23 November 1933).


The composer, using German translation by Erich Fried.


Play (1961) by John Whiting, derived from novel (1952) by Aldous Huxley.



First performance: Hamburg (Staatsoper), 20 June 1969.

First Performance (Revision): Copenhagen (Opera House), 12 February 2013.

First performance in Uk: London (Coliseum), 1 November 1973.

First Performance in Scotland: N/A.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.



Penderecki's opera made a huge impsct at its Hamburg première, when the roles of Grandier and Jeanne were taken by the Polish baritone Andrzej Hiolski and American mezzo Tatyana Troyanos. The piece was seen as both immensely shocking and extremely difficult, and in tandem with his oratorio the St Luke's Passion, it established the composer's international reputation. For British audiences the story is familiar less through the Huxley novel, Whiting play or, indeed, the opera, but rather by the notorious film, The Devils, directed shortly after by Ken Russell, starring Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave. The London production of the opera featured outstanding performances by Geoffrey Chard and Josephine Barstow.

With 2013 being the year of the Verdi and Wagner bicentenaries and Britten centenary, it is perhaps unsurprising that the composer's 80th birthday received less publicity, except perhaps in Poland. Still actively composing, he took the opportunity of a major revival of The Devils of Loudun in Copenhagen to look afresh at the score, making some revisions as well as significant additions. This staging by Keith Warner was rumoured to be coming to the 2013 Edinburgh Festival, as well as Warsaw and Vilnius, but when the programme was announced in March, a month after the Copenhagen opening, there was no mention of it.


Main Characters

Urbain Grandier, a priest (baritone).

Sister Jeanne, prioress of Loudun (soprano).

Father Barré (bass).

Father Mignon (tenor)

De Laubardemont, King's Commissioner (tenor).


Plot Summary

France in 1634, under the rule of Cardinal Richelieu, was a hotbed of political and religious dispute. Grandier, a priest in Loudun, has made himself unpopular with the local authorities because of his political views as well as his notoriously licentious behaviour. The nuns, led by Sister Jeanne, show signs of hysteria and make accusations of sexual misconduct against Grandier. The priest is arrested, and further information about his behaviour is brought to light as the nuns are tortured during the process of exorcism. Grandier is also subjected to torture, but refuses to confess. In spite of the fact that there is no substantive evidence against him, he is condemned to death and burnt.

The Cast

Jeanne des Anges
 Prioress of the Ursulines
Urbain Grandier
 Priest of St Peter's

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