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Arts & Culture

'Horrifically Beautiful' And Bloody 'Salome' Comes To Palm Beach Opera

Courtesy photo

Incest. Psychosis. Sexual taboo. Murder. A make-out session involving a severed head. Salome isn't the typical night at the opera. Likewise, the production at Palm Beach Opera this weekend is something of a departure for the South Florida cultural institution. 

"For us, German repertoire is not so often done," said Scott Guzielek, Palm Beach Opera director of artistic operations. "It's a great way for our audience to be exposed to a different style of music."

And then there's the matter of the challenging plot and visuals, which netted a warning of "nudity and adult themes" in promotional materials. 

"It pushes the envelope a little bit," Guzielek said.

Salome, written by German opera composer Richard Strauss, debuted in 1905 in Germany and is still pushing buttons today. The story -- loosely based on the biblical saga of Herod and his stepdaughter Salome -- was adapted from Oscar Wilde's play of the same name. In this sordid tale of lust, passion, and revenge, Salome performs the infamous "Dance of the Seven Veils" in order to manipulate her stepfather into bringing her the head of John the Baptist. It's a scandalous tale of family dysfunction that remains as provocative today as it did at its premiere more than 100 years ago.

"The cast of Salome are the precursors to great reality TV," Guzielek said. "It's a piece that, at the end, the audience is erupting in wild applause after being horrified for the last 20 minutes. The music -- it's horrifically beautiful."

It's not just the partial nudity, gritty subject matter, and blood -- the production crew is calling for about two quarts of prop blood per show -- that make their mark. Guzielek said Strauss was a "fantastic creator of emotion" with his music. As such, while the show is challenging in many respects, it's also a good entry point for first-time opera-goers. If you're attending the production -- whether it's your first Palm Beach Opera event or you're old hat -- there are three things to know to enhance the experience. 

First, Salome is a fast-moving, 90-minute production. There's no intermission and the musical action is fairly unrelenting. "It's a 90 minute journey and you just have to get ready for it," Guzielek said, likening it to a "jam-packed movie." "Everything is done with a reason - every note." Guzielek encourages the audience to experience whatever emotions are tapped into by the music or story, whether it's anger, disgust, whatever: "Just sit and let yourself go with it."

Second, this won't be easy viewing. It's (literally) a bloody story: "It could make people uncomfortable, but that's what the opera is about; that's OK."

Finally, all that discomfort and unease? It's worth it, especially if you "really let the music take you where Strauss leads you," Guzielek said. Strauss's music evokes passion, anger, and gore, among other things. But it also taps into a deeply psychological place that references the work of Sigmund Freud, whose writings were coming into prominence around the time Salome was penned.

The staging is understated and the costuming is "colorful" and covered with blood by the end. Soprano Erika Sunnegardh takes the title role and Guzielek said "she's one of the leading Salomes in the world." Roberto Paternostro will conduct and Renaud Doucet will direct. Find a full cast list here. Though the show is performed in German, surtitles will be used to help the audience to follow along. 

The Palm Beach Opera's Salome performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. Tickets are available online

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