Vagabond Opera
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Vagabond Opera

Portland, Oregon, United States | AFM

Portland, Oregon, United States | AFM
Band Jazz Cabaret


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"Review of exotic music"

"Vagabond Opera plays multi ethnic, operatic songs with a caberet flair... postmodern air of eclecticism as they skip from one Old World influence to another... a surefire spectacle." - The Oregonian

"Vagabond Opera CD Release"

To celebrate the release of their new CD, Vagabond Opera, Portland's premiere band of Klezmer, orchestral hooligans, are having a party. That's not exactly novel, but the boogie-ing, circus-like, gypsy jazz of their new material sure is. If it's been any amount of time since you waltzed with buckles in your shoes, this is your opportunity to rectify. Heavy on accordions, horns, and opera voices, they could charm snakes. At times they sound like part of the soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof, which by the way is an under-appreciated cinematic masterpiece. They also include a cover of "Port of Amsterdam," a classic..... Expand your cultural capital!
- Marjorie Skinner
- Portland Mercury

"“Life is a Cabaret”"

AVagabond Opera show is a chance to time-travel. Specifically, to 1920s Paris. On a riverboat. With a glass of absinthe in one hand and a long cigarette holder in the other. And -- why not? -- chatting with Josephine Baker.

The six-piece ensemble will create its neo-cabaret fantasy world on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage this Saturday. Eric Stern, a mustachioed 36-year-old operatic tenor and accordion player, is the Portland, Ore., group's artistic director and has a back story nearly as bohemian as the music he plays.

Stern's parents helped run an anarchist book and record shop in Philadelphia. He listened to a ton of music as a tyke, choosing records by the pictures on their covers. Gershwin's "An American in Paris" one day and the soundtrack to "Planet of the Apes" the next. He didn't know about genres then, and he still makes a conscious effort to ignore them: Vagabond Opera cites influences as diverse as klezmer, tango, jazz and Arabic and Balkan music.

A few of the songs on their two full-length albums start with the crackles and pops of an old record player. "The Transformation Into Marlene" is a standout track from the group's self-titled album. "I wish I was Marlene Dietrich," Stern laments over jaunty accordion and a swingy rhythm. "I wish that I had sex appeal."

The group can sing in 11 different languages, including French, English, Yiddish, Russian, Bulgarian and a nonsense Balkan-sounding language that Stern calls "Oshtal."

"I feel, as a composer, like an artist and I've got a lot of colors on the palette," Stern says. "I'm not going to think, 'This color of opera doesn't go with this odd meter from Macedonia.' "

He trained as a vocalist at the Delaware Valley Opera Company until he rejected the classical music world because of what he saw as elitism. He decided that he wanted to be a writer instead and did what all of his literary heroes did: He ran away to Paris. He was 21. He stayed for a year and a half, spending many hours wandering the streets "poor, hungry and unrecognized."

Once back in the States, heartbreak drove him to the loving embrace of an accordion. He saw the instrument in a pawn shop window and played it for two hours -- the first block of time in weeks that he hadn't spent mourning his lost love.

The instrument kept him alive when he moved to Portland and played on street corners to make money. He remembers his busking time fondly, saying he "felt very powerful."

In 2002, he rounded up some other classical music misfits and formed the Vagabond Opera. The ensemble includes tenor saxophone player Robin Jackson, an ethnomusicologist who serves as Stern's "comedy sidekick" onstage.

The hardest part of being in Vagabond Opera? Describing it to other people.

"That is the albatross we all have to bear," laughs bass player Jason Flores. "It's a beautiful mess in a lot of ways. It's just a hodgepodge of anything goes, and if it works, it stays."
- Washington Post

"Where Are We Anyway?"

The Vagabond Opera, which can be viewed as either a band or an experience, is based out of the Pacific Northwest. But their music functions as an axis mundi for the rich and sensual Gypsy sounds of eastern and western Europe, swing, belly dance, tangos and klezmer, all tied up in a package of a European- style cabaret. In other words, these guys have accordions and really cool hats. Their strings are haunted, their vocals weave in and out of English, Arabic and Balkan, and their transgenre style makes them eligible to play gigs as varied as jazz clubs, state fairs and folk festival

Laura Mattingly - - Metro Santa Cruz

""First Class..""

Everything about them is first-class: the music, the band, the voices, the arrangements, the technical quality, the CD artwork and design. Listening to Vagabond Opera is like taking a trip back in time and into the future at the very same time, and that ain't easy!

-Barry Reisman - WNWR, AM 1540 Philadelphia

"Vagabond Opera"

Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, there run two rivers, one of vodka and one of absinthe. Not found on any maps, they are known only to five men and one woman. The name of these musicians? Vagabond Opera. Fusing klezmer with sounds of the Balkans and the Rom, along with a peppering of belly dance, opera, and tango, these neo-cabaret fire starters roll out a rabble-rousing vision of globalization, 1920s-style.

-Todd Lavoie - San Francisco Bay Guardian

"Papa's Got a Brand New Belt"

UNCOMMON to be let down by something that comes along calling itself “opera,” only to find out that it either has nothing at all to do with opera, or that it’s basically a musical. (For the layman, musical theater would generally fall under the “theater” industry, while opera is classical music’s territory; there are some exceptions, but generally, that’s how it plays out). No doubt, opera’s marginal status in popular culture has let much of this lame, ironic or even erroneous labeling go on unchecked.

But the Portland, Ore.–based Vagabond Opera, arriving next week to the Zipper Factory in a hail of sepia and song, actually lives up to its name. Founded six years ago by frontman Eric Stern,Vagabond Opera has been bringing a richly diverse, if distinctly zany, mix of operatic cabaret to musical venues of all kinds both in and outside the United States, straddling genres and doing some serious singing while they’re at it. The six-piece ensemble (which includes violin, musical saw, accordion, sax, cello, bass and percussion and several vocals) presents songs in 12 languages, and in musical traditions ranging from opera and cabaret, to klezmer and Balkan wedding music, wearing costumes, donning foreign accents and trying to evoke, as they call it, an “old world mood.” And while its musical sources come from diverse areas, and the vocal stylings are not always of a strictly classical nature, the rigorous and virtuosic hallmark of formal vocal training is never too far away. Stern, 37, who is trained in the Bel Canto style of operatic singing (as is Vagabond soprano Ursula Knudson), says he got the idea for Vagabond Opera while he was “entrenched” in the opera world, and longing for a less restricted way to practice his love of singing.

“I found myself to be a cog in the machine,” he says, referring to how the opera industry is mainly a repertory system, where singers cycle through the same roles in opera houses around the world, in essence, getting plugged-in to whatever arsenal of standard roles the singer has under his belt. “In some ways you have to be a cog. But for me, it was limiting.”

And while the opera world today seems to be changing, there are still few opportunities for singers to create new roles, or to present operatic singing in contexts outside the concert hall or opera house.

“I didn’t feel that [what I did] was reaching my peers.” This is a truth among young conservatory-trained musicians who are confronted with the reality that most of their friends outside of classical music will never find their way into a concert hall. For classical singers, this prospect is even grimmer than it is for instrumentalists.

When scream-singing, speak-singing and non-singing rule the direction of popular music—not to mention the amount of digital-faking going on with recording technology able to make someone sound like the good singer they are not at the click of a button—it’s hard for the values of classical singing to find a foothold.

In fact, many trained singers who can’t find work in opera, turn to singing for church choirs, a steady gig but one that comes with obvious drawbacks.

There just aren’t a lot of places where the operatic voice fits in. Even worse, many singers, after training classically, simply give up singing altogether, whether for being unwilling to risk their life pursuing a career in opera, or, as Stern points out, because classical training can often (even blatantly) discourage aspiring students, making them afraid to use their voices outside the context of the repertoire.

“You can get paranoid” about how you sound, Stern acknowledges, “and you end up not singing at all. It seems wrong and sad.” But Stern has found an exuberant and satisfying place where operatic vocal technique and popular idioms intersect, allowing his group to perform along side more indie-oriented bands (it will be joined on Tuesday by Boston-based Walter Sikert and the Army of Broken Toys, and New York songstress Adrienne Anemone) while also exposing unlikely audiences to the visceral pleasures of a Bel Canto voice.

For Vagabond Opera, casual atmospheres and classical voices are not mutually exclusive.

LINK:;see-ijGP343xkrkStZKp#c-131442;z-21 - New York Press


Vagabond Opera's newest CD "The Zeitgeist Beckons" was released in May 2009. They have two previous full lengths CDs, "Vagabond Opera" (2006) and "Get on the Train" (2004).



Opera is alive. Vagabond Opera (the critically-acclaimed sextet from Portland Oregon), pumps life into opera with the bellows of an untamed Romanian accordion, re-invents it, and accomplishes the near-impossible. The ensemble prompts Music Halls, Performing Arts Centers, taverns even, to resound with the ovations of the vox populi, clamoring, once again, for opera’s new wave.

The curtain parts: steampunked Absinthe-era vestments, thirteen languages, an operatic encounter that puts its green-backed silver dollar where its mouth is—square in the center of a ringing high C that beckons the zeitgeist in a juicy song. The words go like this: Opera’s no longer stuffy and elite; it’s for you and it brims and burns with new life, a gypsy bouillabaisse brewed of Balkan, Jazz, bohemian cabaret, Arabic maquam, vital and reinvigorating, marking uncharted territory. It’s a new world opera, a global one. The curtain closes. Encores. Room keys thrown on to the stage. Opera reinvented.

The band's lineup features trained operatic tenor and soprano vocals, accordion, tenor saxophone, cello, violin, musical saw, banjo-lele, stand-up bass and drums.

Vagabond Opera is at the vanguard of a growing popularity in the Neo-cabaret phenomenon, and through their theatrical performances, lyrics in 13 languages, and an eclectic repertoire, they liberate opera from its usual construct, expanding musical and theatrical biodiversity. Vagabond Opera has performed all over the USA and in Europe. They have been featured on NPR, in the Washington Post and Jazziz Magazine, and have shared stages and players with Pink Martini, Devotchka, The Decemberists, and the Oregon Symphony. Vagabond opera has three full length albums.

Vagabond Opera is currently listed in the Young Audiences of Oregon and Washington Community Arts Resources Roster, offering an assembly program for youth. In addition to concerts, they are also always happy to play private events including weddings, mitzvah's, theme parties, and corporate events.