Vagabond Opera will wander into Baltimore on Friday night, bringing with it a reputation for delivering genre-bending, sometimes madcap entertainment. Based in Portland, Ore., the sextet takes its name seriously.
"We sing real opera in our shows," says saxophonist Robin Jackson, "and fuse it with other things."
In addition to arias, the group puts into the blender such elements as cabaret songs, klezmer tunes, Arabian and Balkan folk music, swing, belly-dancing and a cupful or two of camp. A particularly witty, theatrical example features Eric Stern, the tenor, accordionist, pianist and composer who founded Vagabond Opera in 2002, singing about his desire to be Marlene Dietrich.
Stern had once been on a conventional operatic path. "But at some point it seemed limited," he says. "I liked other kinds of music, and I wasn't getting to do my own [compositions] or stage anything. The basic thought behind [Vagabond Opera] was: What would it be like to have an operatic voice in an ensemble that was not limited to Western classical repertoire and Western instrumentation?"
The group, which performs songs in more than a dozen real languages and a few made-up ones, has a distinct look. "It's a nod to 1920s Paris, a cabaret image," Jackson says. "The costumes have evolved over the years to be more elaborate. We have a lot of fun with the shtick. We try to take people on a journey; when they wake up two hours later, they'll feel they've been somewhere."
Performances around the country and beyond have generated diverse houses. "We'll get the young circus punk crowd," Jackson says, "the 16- to-24-year olds who are into Gogol Bordello; the people in their 30s and 40s, the Pink Martini-type of people; and the older-with-money crowd — often at the same show. The 65-year-olds will be on one side, next to a raging mosh pit. It's really cool."
Vagabond Opera performs at 8 p.m. Friday at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave. Also appearing: the gypsy band, Balti Mare, and Charm City Tribal's bellydance troupe, Lilam. Tickets are $12-15. 410-276-1651, creativealliance.org.