Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 1, 2013

Vagabond Opera defies description


TRAVERSE CITY — Opera meets cabaret. Klezmer greets tango, blues and jazz and Bulgarian wedding music.

The Vagabond Opera of Portland, Ore., is coming to town to help kick off the 4th Annual Microbrew & Music Festival at a Saturday night concert at the Good Work Collective, 417 Union.

The unique ensemble defies description.

"It's really is a spectacle," said founder Eric Stein, a classically trained opera tenor, composer, jazz pianist and accordion player. "Imagine that you are in Paris during the Belle Epoque era in the 1900s and you go to the Moulin Rouge. It's interesting and quirky, yet it brings people to their feet and makes them want to dance."

Stein started the Vagabond Opera in 2002 after driving across the country playing his accordion and singing opera on street corners.

"I never felt so free and I made money doing it," he said in a telephone interview this week. "And it was all sustained by air — through my voice and the accordion."

He had become disillusioned with the limits of the classical opera world and had an idea he wanted to develop. He wanted to create a new context on a more intimate scale for opera and also incorporate his loves: Klezmer, classical and Middle Eastern music and jazz. He also is a jazz pianist.

The driving trip ended in Portland for two reasons. He ran out of money and he found the Portland music scene and creativity there to be a place that would nourish his Vagabond Opera idea.

Klezmer is known for its tempo and rhythm changes, slight dissonance, some improvisation and ability to evoke emotions. It originated centuries ago in the "shtetl" (villages) and ghettos of Eastern Europe and was spread and developed further by contact with Greek, Slavic, Ottoman Turkish and Roma gypsy music and later American jazz.

The Vagabond Opera's latest album is "Sing for Your Lives." The Traverse City performance is part of a 16-city tour that started Jan. 18 in Seattle and will end Feb. 9 in Bennington, Vt. Other performers in the seven-member touring band include guest vocalist/violinist and musical saw player Ursula Knudsen; Drew Nelson, acoustic bass; Paul Evans, saxophone and other winds; Susan Lucia, drums and percussion; guest cabaret singer Karolina Lux, trumpet, vocals and belly dancing; and Xander Almeida, theatrics.

In Portland, Stern was commissioned in 2007 to compose the music for the Tears Of Joy Puppet Theatre production of "Pinocchio." He most recently composed the full-length opera, "Queen of Knives," which premiered in Portland in 2010.

Doors open at 7 p.m. Saturday and the show starts at 8. You must be 21 or older to enter. Tickets are $15.