Begun in 2002 by classically-trained operatic tenor Eric Stern, the group defies definition by blending jazz, swing, folk-punk and klezmer.Â They have been performing across the U.S., appearing with such acts as Pink Martini, The Decemberists, Al Franken and the Oregon Symphony.
â€œWe are a cabaret forum to provide a musical connection and a spectacle to see,â€ said Stern during an interview last Friday.
Stern explained that Vagabond Opera went through many incarnations in their early days in Portland, changing members and sounds until they found the right group of people.
â€œIt was more about communing and finding Portland musicians; it was a relationship in dating,â€ said Stern of the groupâ€™s early days.
The bandâ€™s lineup features both tenor and soprano operatic voices, accordion, tenor saxophone, two cellos, upright bass and drums.Â The members are not only superb musicians but stellar showmen (and show-women) as well.Â Â As is traditional in classical opera, a Vagabond Opera show is not only an excellent musical show but an enthralling story as well.
â€œItâ€™s about making a dramatic arc in the night; we donâ€™t have a set narrative and we feed off the audience,â€ said Stern.
Though the group was started by Stern, heâ€™s adamant that in no way is he the only creative force in the band.Â With four composers and three singers, all the members of the band bring in songs and have creative input.
â€œWe have open rehearsals with everyone introducing material and teaching everyone else,â€ said Stern.
The lineup includes Stern on vocals, accordion and piano; Jason Flores on bass, guitar and harmonica; Ashia Grzesik on vocals and cello; Mark Burdon on drums; Robin Jackson on saxophone and violin; and Skip vonKuske on cello.Â They are also aided by the â€œofficially ordained Doctor of Malarkyâ€ Dr. Xander Gerrymander, who helps with publicity and theatrics, among other things.