Thursday January 31, 2013

NORTH BENNINGTON -- Bohemian cabaret ensemble Vagabond Opera ventures into new territory in its Green Mountain debut, landing on Vermont Art Exchange’s Basement Music Series stage Saturday, Feb. 9. The bawdy, brainy burlesque begins when doors open at 7 p.m. in VAE’s Sage Street Mill; concert begins at 8 p.m.

Like surrealist Marcel Duchamp packing an entire life’s work into a suitcase, the six-member troupe from Portland, Oregon, tucks the high drama of opera into the tight squeeze of the sexy cabaret. By turns sinister, seedy, sweet and nostalgic, the Opera cleverly mashes up Eastern European folk theater, hot club acts, avant-garde klezmer jams, perky musicals and edgy absurdism.

Called "an eclectic musical phenomenon" (NBC), and described as "A band of ceaseless charisma, boundless energy, impeccable musicianship and more than a little touch of both the naughty and exotic" (Washington Post), Vagabond Opera delivers passionate offerings for young and old. Paris hot jazz, gut-bucket swing, tangos, Ukrainian folk-punk ballads, klezmer and vigorous originals charmingly collide with riverboat gambling queens, sultry beauties and Turkish belly dancers. Weaving elements of Kurt Weil, Duke Ellington and Edith Piaf with absurdist flair, theatrics and an Old-World mood, Vagabond Opera presents the new wave of opera -- rich and lusty musical phrasing, sparkling lyrics and indomitable stage presence, all played with exuberance, skill and a gritty Vagabond edge. This is opera liberated and reinvented for everyone!

Featuring four singers (two operatically trained), two cellos, saxophone, bass, drums and more, the Vagabond Opera performs a dizzying combination of cabaret, burlesque, tango, Balkan beats, klezmer, rock, Arab music, Parisian hot jazz, and, of course, opera. Musicians sing in 15 languages and mix genre-defying original tunes with covers made famous by such artists as Jacques Brel, Tom Waits, Raymond Scott, and Edith Piaf -- all performed with theatrics, flair and an old world mood.

"We love storytelling, creating a world on stage or on a recording," says saxophonist and songwriter Robin Jackson. "We bring people into a dark cabaret where they forget themselves." Founder, composer and singer Eric Stern adds, "We draw on Old World elements and genresÅ  but we utterly transform them." Jackson and Stern are joined by Opera-mates Jason Flores (standup bass), Mark Burdon (percussion), Skip Von Kuske (cello) and Ashia Grzesik (vocals and cello). Guest artist Ursula Knudson (vocals, violin, saw, banjolele and percussion) also joins the Opera for this performance and may be familiar to Basement Music Series regulars; she has twice previously performed at VAE with Fishtank Ensemble.

Formed in 2002, Vagabond Opera is at the vanguard of a growing popularity in the neo-cabaret phenomenon. Through its four full-length albums, countless theatrical performances and eclectic repertoire, it brings the quirky creative spirit of Portland to the world -- liberating opera from its usual construct, and expanding musical and theatrical biodiversity. Vagabond Opera has played all over the country, in Europe and even on NPR’s "Mountain Stage" -- sharing performances and swapping musicians with such acclaimed acts as Pink Martini, Devotchka, The Decembrists, Balkan Beat Box, Al Franken and the Oregon Symphony.

Advance tickets for this Basement Music Series concert are $18 through Brown Paper Tickets, the first and only fair-trade ticketing company, at

brownpapertickets.com or vtartxchange.org/bms.php, or by calling (toll free) 800-838-3006 -- a small processing fee will be charged. Tickets are $22 at the door on the day of show on a first-come, first-served basis. Libations and dinner options, provided by Thyme Tables Catering of Shaftsbury, are available; visit the ticket website for the menu options, or call Thyme Tables at 802-447-3896 for more information and to reserve your order.

Follow the 2013 season on the Basement Music Series Facebook page (facebook.com/VermontArtsExchange) and on Twitter (BMSatVAE).

Vermont Arts Exchange is a fully handicapped-accessible facility. For more information about Vermont Arts Exchange, the 2013 Basement Music Series season, exhibits, classes or workshops, contact VAE at 802-442-5549 or visit vtartxchange.org. For more information about Vagabond Opera, visit vagabondopera.com.