Rethinking Jeanne and the theme of the supernatural in Die Teufel von Loudun
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Krzysztof Penderecki’s (b. 1933) Die Teufel von Loudun is an adaptation of a play by John Whiting that tells a story of demonic possession and exorcism based on a historical event in Loudun. Previous scholars have neglected the supernatural element, despite the clear evidence that Penderecki changed texts and reordered the plot to make Jeanne’s supernatural experiences more convincing and more significant to the plot. Through strange shifts in vocal range and timbre, evocative orchestration, and unusual uses of the chorus, Penderecki revealed the coexistence of two realms: one natural and one supernatural. At times, he blurred the border between the realms through ambiguous musical effects involving oddly mismatched timbres. Elsewhere he made structural links between scenes in order to reveal previously hidden supernatural elements. Penderecki’s multiple evocations of the supernatural through music add an important dimension to the opera and make the character Jeanne central to understanding it.