Published Fri, Feb 1, 2013 10:40 am Dateline
"Rise up from the rubble and feast your ears on our miraculous melodies, gilded with luminescence."
That proclamation by Vagabond Opera graces the liner notes of the group's most recent offering, Sing For Your Lives!
Over a decade ago, composer, accordionist and classically trained tenor Eric Stern felt somewhat constrained by the world of opera and wanted to explore other types of music, especially the music of eastern Europe.
He was intrigued by the possibilities of distilling down what he considered the best elements of opera, such as the visceral power of the human voice, and combining those features with the theatrics of cabaret and burlesque.
A sundry of musical genres was thrown into the mix, such as tango, Balkan music, Klezmer and Parisian hot club jazz, and the result was the formation of Vagabond Opera.
Besides Stern's accordion, the ensemble features four vocalists who sing in 14 languages, a belly dancer and various musicians who play a wide array of instruments, including the violin, upright bass, drums, saxophone, trumpet and the musical saw.
The latter instrument is expertly bowed by Ursula Knudsen, who has previously performed in Athens County at Stuart's Opera House, Casa Cantina and in the WOUB studios with her own group, The Fishtank Ensemble.
A Washington Post review described the band as having "ceaseless charisma, boundless energy, impeccable musicianship and more than a little touch of both naughty and nice."
Vagabond Opera is at the vanguard of neo-cabaret, a contemporary movement that captures the darker, Brechtian sense of cabaret that hopefully gets people to think about social change.
Stern emphasized that the band is very much a product of time and place, that place being Portland, Ore.
Equating his hometown's vibrancy and spirit with that of 1920s Paris, he thinks that Portland's artistic community is a great place to find like-minded musicians that possess skill and craftsmanship.
Despite the band's diversity and eclecticism, Stern feels that there is a method to the Vagabond Ensemble's madness.
"It's just not a hodgepodge of stuff," he explained. "Whatever type of music we approach, whether it be Ellingtonian jazz or Bulgarian wedding music, we try to approach it with all the integrity and respect we can."
Stern insisted that, with all the scholarship and technical facility involved in playing and understanding the music, the important thing is to perform material that is heartfelt and thoroughly engaging; to bring the people into the musical conversation and share in the spectacle and journey.
"And to just have a really great time," he added.
Vagabond Opera will perform at Marietta's Adelphia Music Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 8 p.m. Information and tickets are available at www.theadelphia.com.