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The Whistler Question, Concert Preview >>

Vagabond Opera brings eclectic arsenal to Whistler

Whistler is used to transient residents. Every six months or so, a large chunk of the current population ups and leaves and a new one is welcomed in the form of eager skiers, boarders or bikers.

It makes sense then, that a traveling ensemble would eventually make its way to town, bringing with it an entertainment experience for one night only.

That ensemble? The appropriately-named Vagabond Opera, a Portland, Ore.-based troupe flavoured with elements of opera, cabaret and riverboat theatrics.

"We started up about 10 years ago at a point where I had become slightly disenchanted with the opera world I was in," said Eric Stern, tenor/accordionist/pianist for the group. "Opera's a wonderful thing, but I felt that the opera world wasn't addressing my own needs and I didn't have an outlet as a composer. So I thought that it would make sense to put opera in a form that was more relevant to my peers."

And thanks to Portland's colourful music scene, Stern was able to connect with other like-minded performers and soon the Vagabond Opera was birthed. It was then that Stern and the others began fine-tuning what would eventually become the Vagabond act.

"A lot of that comes out of opera itself. It is after all, a visual as well as an aural spectacle and it's an amalgamation of a lot of things going on," explained Stern. "In this day and age you can see anything you want on YouTube anywhere in the world. As musicians we're very keyed in to that and I want to be aware of all the colours in the palette out there and what you can paint with.

"There are ways that we just like to take the audience on a journey and we just go for what we like."

And with four albums out under the ensemble's name, Stern said it's the audience that keeps the group going and performances are as much about reciprocity as they are about entertaining.

"As strange an animal as it may look on paper or on YouTube, it's really about connecting with the audience and the audience connecting with us," said Stern regarding their act. "This is not just something we do for ourselves — we care about the audience's experience and we're hopefully pandering to them and they will hopefully pander to us too and we'll meet somewhere halfway."

As for the market for such a unique act, which sometimes includes elements of bellydancing, gypsy rock and folk-punk ballads, Stern said he hasn't heard of another group doing anything similar.

"What we have to offer is pretty unique and if there were a lot of what we had to offer out there, then I would think of it as competition but at this point it feels like a small brotherhood," he said.

When it comes to the group's creative process, Stern said because there are so many different elements to incorporate, there isn't really one set process when it comes to creating new material.

"There are four composers in the band, so we do things three or four different ways," he said. "Sometimes people bring stuff in on paper and we just learn it, sometimes people bring in an idea and we come together and a lot of times things come together in a performance — we'll try something out in front of an audience and learn a lot about the song then."

To possibly be part of the song-writing process, check out the Vagabond Opera tonight (Thursday, Oct. 13) at Millennium Place. The show is part of the Whistler Arts Council's (WAC) Performance Series and begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $24 for adults, $21 for seniors/students and $19 for WAC members.

 10/13/11 >> go there
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