The opera was Penderecki’s second commission in Germany. On the 20th June 1969, three years after the premiere of his "St Luke's Passion" in Münster Cathedral, Krzysztof Penderecki’s first opera "The Devils of Loudun" had its world premiere in Hamburg. At the time Krzysztof Penderecki was living and working in West Berlin and was by now also a well-known composer of contemporary music in Germany, not least because of his overwhelming success in Münster. Accordingly the expectations of his new opera were high, the more so because two years previously he had announced that a "gigantic show" was on its way. But the work only partially fulfilled the high expectations. After the premiere the critic of the magazine “Der Spiegel” wrote that Penderecki’s opera offered little more than some accompanying music to a play whose protagonists just happened to sing. The FAZ even wrote of a "timid first score". But these verdicts can partly be attributed to a lack of perspective and partly to a lack of a broader view. Today "The Devils of Loudun" is recognized as being at the core of the works composed by Krzysztof Penderecki in the early period of his career.
The action of the opera takes place around 1634 in the French town of Loudun. The priest Urbain Grandier is accused of putting a spell on the nuns of a monastery. The accusations have a political background. An exorcism is performed, false testimonies are made against Grandier and this leads to an atmosphere of distrust and hatred. Finally Father Grandier is tortured and burnt at the stake.
Two days after its premiere in Hamburg another production opened at the State Theatre in Stuttgart. The Stuttgart production was much more courageous in its interpretation of the work and also proved how differently Penderecki’s opera could be interpreted.
In 1975 Krzysztof Penderecki incorporated two further scenes from the original version for the Warsaw version of its opera, but he discarded them shortly before the production opened. Both scenes were re-included in the new version performed in 2013 on the occasion of his 80th birthday, first in Copenhagen and then in Warsaw.