Theatrical, exotic and, yes, operatic
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, March 16
Where: Stargazers Theatre and Event Center, 10 S. Parkside Drive
Tickets: $15-$20; 476-2200, stargazerstheatre.com.
Don’t let the word “opera” in Vagabond Opera fool you.
“We are far from opera at this point,” says Eric Stern, the band leader.
Stern is a trained opera singer who performed all over the world before returning to Portland, Ore., with visions of an opera-influenced band dancing in his head. He got his wish. They celebrated their 10th anniversary on Halloween.
“What seemed interesting was to form something leaner, more distilled and could maybe relate to my peers a bit more,” he says. “I remember people trying to make opera more appealing to young people, and it always failed.”
Vagabond Opera is six guys strong, though singer Catherine Bridge was added to their current tour. They play a dark-feeling kaleidoscope of opera, Eastern European and jazz music.
If you close your eyes, the music will take you places. An old-time carnival. The center of a bustling Arabian market. A camp of gypsies dancing around a fire. They build those illusions with accordions, cellos, saxophone, clarinet and one member who is responsible for “theatrics,” according to their press release.
And don’t forget the costumes. The men look like old-time carnies, dressed in suspenders, colorful, large boutonnieres and top hats.
They perform at Stargazer’s Theatre and Event Center on Saturday.
“There are still operatic vocals at the center of it,” he says. “It’s really a cabaret at this point. When I think about putting together a show, I think about creating a spectacle and dramatic arc over a period of two hours.”
Stern is cautious about the word cabaret, too. This isn’t the American cabaret you may be used to, he says. There are no jazz hands or dinner theater here.
“Cabaret has an European dark thread running through it, where you think of (German playwright) Bertolt Brecht,” he says. “This is harkening back to Weimer, Germany, and English musical.”
Brecht and the city of Weimer both greatly influenced theater and culture in the 20th century, and in turn, Stern.
And spectacle it is. Each song is its own world — a mini theater performance set to music. There’s the “Beard and Moustache” song, “New Year’s Eve in a Haunted House” and “Chaplin Nonesense Song.” They’ve produced four albums with songs in 14 languages. Their latest, “Sing For Your Lives,” was released in 2011.
Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Oregon Art Beat said: “Vagabond Opera’s multifaceted style is a product of 21st-century Portland’s spirit of experimentation. But as innovative as they are, the band also draws on the deepest roots of musical tradition to revive a time when communities gathered together to celebrate through dance and song.”
That whole performance art encased in vaudevillian music can sweep up an audience and take them away from the daily grind. This is their unappointed duty, Stern believes, as well as providing some much needed eye candy after all the bands with musicians staring at their feet while they play, he says.
“There is a place for showmanship. I think what’s appealing is number one — costume. And number two — we’re doing it with elements of irony,” he says. “We’re reclaiming that and saying it’s OK to create a spectacle, and at the same time, what grounds it is the sometime irony. It’s not a Disney show.”
Jennifer Mulson may be reached at 636-0270.