Vagabond Opera is steampunk burlesque for all

Eric Stern hopes for the day Tom Waits calls him to ask if his band Vagabond Opera will open for him on tour. Until then, they’ll keep introducing what he describes as “Bohemian cabaret” to audiences around the country — including a performance at Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks, 100 W. Main St., Millheim, at 5 p.m. Jan. 27.

Stern, a classically trained opera singer, formed Vagabond Opera in 2002, after becoming disillusioned with the opera world. He wanted to create an experience that would include elements of opera but include jazz, Klezmer, vaudeville and many other styles.

The result, he hopes, will transport audiences to a place far away from central Pennsylvania.

“We really hope to take people on a journey in our shows … perhaps a journey to absinthe-tinged Parisian bordellos,” Stern said. “It’s definitely not a show where we’re standing there playing our guitars and staring at our shoes.”

The band makes its home in Portland, Ore., and often collaborates with other artists in the area, sometimes taking those partners on the road. A typical Vagabond Opera show can include dancers and other performers in addition to the band’s standard lineup of accordion, tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass, drums, two cellos and four vocalists.

Those collaborations and the magic they produce on stage are part of the value of live music, Stern said. Though the band’s show is theatrical, music is still its primary focus.

“We rely heavily on improvisation on stage and off, and at the heart is music. That’s what we do best and that’s how we’ll really connect,” he said. “We hope to show people that there still is a reason to go out and see live music, theater, circus, live anything in a digital age.”

The band’s latest album, “Sing For Your Lives,” was released in 2011 and conjures images of a 1920s circus or a European burlesque show. While the songs are extravagant, Stern said there’s nothing magical about creating them.

“We’re very lucky to live in this age where we have access to more recorded music than any in history. … There’s a great spectrum you can draw you colors and palettes from,” he said. “I think that if you are a well-read person open to new experiences, it works its way into your music.”

Vagabond Opera will perform at 5 p.m. Jan. 27 at Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks, 100 W. Main St., Millheim. Call 349-8850 or visit www.elkcreekcafe.net for more information.