Embracing old-world musical styles, steam-punk sensibilities and Vaudevillian theatrics, Vagabond Opera is on the cutting edge of the neo-cabaret movement sweeping the country. Combining hot jazz, gypsy string music, Balkan bellydancing, Yiddish theatre, folk-punk, swing, opera and tangos, the Portland-based sextet is an eclectic troupe romping through the lively tradition of the travelling stage show.
Formed in 2002, the ensemble was born of founder and frontman Eric Stern’s disillusionment with the classical opera world and his desire to create “a new context for opera.” The trained opera singer and composer rounded up a band of multi-talented musical misfits, philosophers and outliers—including vocalist and cellist Ashia Grzesik; a product of Hayward by-way-of Poland—and created the Vagabond Opera. Comprised of both self-taught, born musicians and students of the finest music schools, Vagabond Opera wrangles together cellos, the accordion, the saxophone, the stand-up bass, dancers, flamboyant costumes and non-stop antics into an edgy and exotic, playful and imaginative stage show that transports audiences into a fantastical world where time, space and geography fall away.
With band members whose backgrounds range from playing on the streets to performing in Las Vegas with Cirque du Soleil; operatic and orchestral experience to rock bands, indie-theater, and even musicology studies, Vagabond Opera stands out as one of the finest and most technically-savvy neo-cabaret outfits around. Showcasing a magnetic charm, unwavering improvisational confidence, nostalgia for the old, weird America and a keen understanding of shadowy humor, the Opera brings to the stage something that must be experienced to be understood.
In their quest for truth, beauty and freedom, the Vagabond Opera has gained a worldwide reputation and received rave reviews from critics and fans alike. Their musicianship, stage presence and retro-visionary take on the travelling show have made them a hit in the States and around Europe, and their improvisational skills and no-setlist approach to performing ensure that songs are rarely played the same twice; each show is a one-of-a-kind, all-in affair.
Vagabond Opera performs Saturday, April 16, at the Sunnyvale Theatre.