VIDEO — Vagabond Opera lives in two worlds; that of a touring band and that of a repertory theater company. The band doesn't try to distinguish itself in one way or the other because, according to the group's tenor singer and accordion player Eric Stern, the music and theatrics are inextricably linked.
Vagabond Opera lives in two worlds; that of a touring band and that of a repertory theater company. The band doesn't try to distinguish itself in one way or the other because, according to the group's tenor singer and accordion player Eric Stern, the music and theatrics are inextricably linked.
"Music is really at the heart of what we do," Stern says. "You hope that music is a big part of any theatrical movement."
Vagabond Opera — which also features Annie Rosen on the violin, musical saw and soprano voice; Robin Jackson on saxophone, clarinet and vocals; Drew Nelson on bass; Mark Burdon on drums; Skip Von Kuske on cello; and opera singer Catherine Bridge — will present its musical theatrics at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 15, at Havurah Shir Hadash, 185 N. Mountain Ave., Ashland.
Vagabond Opera plays an eclectic array of music. The group combines the musical styles of burlesque, cabaret, Parisian jazz, Balkan music, opera and more.
"I was in the opera world, but I craved more," Stern says. "The story of the band is mostly a story about being in Portland. Portland is my idea of what Paris in the '30s was like; a place where people could live cheaply and where the quality of life was more important than just the grind."
Stern finds Portland to be a more creatively supportive environment than other places.
"I'm from the East Coast originally, so it was very refreshing to be out here and to actually have a musical community versus a musical shark tank," Stern says.
Songs from the group are sung in 14 different languages. Stern says the group tries to maintain integrity by knowing the language and grammar of what it's singing, which came from his operatic education.
Visually, the group employs the Victorian look of steampunk, which Stern says the group stumbled into.
"We didn't want to dress in jeans and T-shirts, of course," Stern says. "There's an ensemble called The Yard Dogs Road Show that really influenced the way we dressed. It's a very circusy look."
Stern says that the look of the band also was heavily influenced by the Martin Scorsese movie "Gangs of New York."
"These guys are wearing these outrageous top hats and these plaid pants," Stern says. "A lot of bands, when they try to spiff it up, they look like they're in the '30s or '40s; you know, fedoras and stuff. I wanted to take it a little further than that."
Vagabond Opera was unaware of steampunk for the first seven years of the group's existence but eventually embraced its place in the culture.
"We got more into the style because it fit our act," Stern says. "We met steampunk halfway and sort of evolved into that, but there's still some of the circusy, stripey look."
Tickets cost $16 in advance and are available at Music Coop in Ashland or online at www.brownpapertickets.com.