Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Life is a cabaret

By Alex Rush

How many musical genres can one band incorporate into its sound?

Portland-based sextet Vagabond Opera, a self-proclaimed Bohemian cabaret ensemble, manages to play at least 10. The musically catholic group will bring its fusion of styles and wild theatrics to Kingsborough Community College on Saturday as part of the school’s free outdoor concert series, “Hot Summer Nights.”

“They cover such a broad range of music,” said Anna Becker, executive director of the school’s theater. “And one of the things that excited me so much about them is their stage presence — they’ll run through the aisles singing and even bring out a fire-eating belly dancer.”

Clad in fedoras and other threads fit for a show at the Moulin Rouge, Vagabond Opera draws influences from klezmer, jazz, classical, swing, European folk varieties and of course, opera. Their vocalists include tenors and sopranos who sing in 15 different languages. The band even wrote and performed a full-length opera, “Queen of Knives,” in their home city this past May.

The man behind the musical madness is multi-instrumentalist and operatic tenor Eric Stern. Stern wanted to combine opera with kooky, burlesque-style theatre that could be performed in venues that are much smaller than the typical opera hall. He couldn’t have assembled a more eclectic ensemble to fulfill his vision. Group members include a bassist trained in Armenian music, a jazz drummer, a saxophonist who did time as a circus performer, a folk-rock cellist and another cellist who once took part in a Cirque du Soleil production.

Now that’s what we call a variety show.

Vagabond Opera at Kingsborough Community College [2001 Oriental Blvd. between Decatur Avenue and Quentin Street in Manhattan Beach, (718) 368-5596], July 31 at 8 pm. Free. For info, visit


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