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Rag-tag musicians roll into Skokie Theatre
By MELISSA WASSERMAN Contributor October 18, 2011 4:56PM
It will be a lively evening — just what you’d expect from a troupe of rogues and vagabonds.
“We’re not just staring at our shoes playing music,” said Eric Stern, Vagabond Opera founder and artistic director. “We’re talking with each other, we’re interacting with the audience, and there’s creative moments.”
The KFAR Jewish Arts Center will host a performance by the Vagabond Opera at Skokie Theatre that promises to be a bohemian cabaret of music that samples a world of various genres.
Stern, a European-trained opera singer and composer, founded the group in 2002 in Portland, Ore. Wanting to get back to his Jewish roots as well as gain more control of the music, he sought out like-minded people from the Portland music community to create the group.
“One of the things we try to do is expand musical biodiversity through spectacle and musicianship and instilling the theatrical-ness of opera and opera’s voice,” he said. “We’re really a hybrid because we play Eastern European cabaret jazz and most of it is nowadays original but it’s folk-influenced, Klezmer-influenced and jazz-influenced. We seek to enrich people’s lives.”
The six-person ensemble includes musicians playing an accordion, sax, clarinet, bass, percussion and two cellos, and three vocalists. The troupe also dresses up to fit the gypsy aesthetic.
This upcoming program features Yiddish, English and Polish songs.
“In some ways they (audience members) will be able to connect with their Jewish roots because that was something that I wasn’t finding in opera,” Stern said. “So being able to find that for myself and bring it to others has been a real joy.”
The ensemble itself often motivates Stern musically. He explains that the group’s members continue to grow as people, remain friends, and influence each other compositionally.
“It’s like a marriage with five other people that of course has its bumps and rocky parts, but over all that’s a pretty unique work situation where you get to be in this collective with five other people and it keeps being fresh and interesting,” he said.
The performance’s particular genre fits with KFAR Jewish Art Center’s mission to stimulate, promote and produce the next generation of Jewish creative expression.
Old world fun
“This is our first time working with Vagabond Opera, and we’re excited about working with them,” said KFAR Jewish Art Center’s Executive Director Adam Davis. “One of the aims of KFAR Jewish Arts Center is highlighting the links between Jewish and other cultures, and Vagabond Opera does that in unique fashion with its patchwork pastiche of old-world styles.”
Stern says that this upcoming show includes plenty of spectacle and a lot of improvisation.
“I hope we lead the audience on a journey and they come away feeling almost as if they’ve seen a narrative,” Stern said. “There’s no specific narrative, but there’s a dramatic arc. I would say it’s just fun, foot-stompin’ Eastern European Klezmer music.” 10/18/11 >> go there