Queen of Knives Page
“Queen of Knives, the first opera by Portland’s Vagabond Opera in collaboration with Wanderlust Circus, is many things — many, many things. It’s a wildly heterogeneous mix of 1920s cabaret, Yiddish theater, klezmer, belly dancing, fire dancing, verismo opera and an inquiry into the nature of magic and science. More simply, it is, in a word, awesome.”
“Queen of Knives”, a Knife Throwing bullseye opera, brought to the stage by Vagabond Opera and Wanderlust Circus, premiered at the Interstate Cultural Firehouse Center May 7th–9th and May 13th-16th for a total of eight sold out shows and was composed by Portland’s own Eric Stern (Vagabond Opera, Monsters of Accordion) and directed by Noah Mickens (Wanderlust Circus, Bogville).
About Queen of Knives
|Vagabond Opera presents “Queen of Knives.”|
Queen of Knives, by American composer Eric Stern, is a full-length opera, in English. The opera takes place in a traveling carnival and tells the story of a brother and sister knife-throwing act in the midst of the student protests in Birmingham in the early 1960’s. The story revolves around the relationship of the siblings and a femme fatal who eventually comes between them by challenging their superstitious beliefs in the volatile alchemy of a magic knife and a mysterious ritual. All of this transpires within the whimsical, colorful and often somber backdrop of a carnival landscape littered with barkers, a fire dancer, a belly dancer and vagabond arias.
Vagabond Opera seeks to expand the operatic form by making the voice a central component not only in traditional operatic musical forms and languages but also to surround it with an exciting and eclectic ensemble that plays a variety of musical styles including Balkan, Arabic, klezmer, and jazz. Bandleader Eric Stern continues that mission by the creation of Queen of Knives. Part of Stern’s inspiration for the opera comes from his lifetime interest in the intersection of science and magic. Stern says “The placebo effect is one example where people are given sugar pills and sometimes actually heal—what if, I thought, there was a knife act where the operators actually believed they were using magic knives? How long could this be sustained and would they sustain their illusion in the face of facts?”
The opera explores this theme and much more all within a carnival setting and with the collaboration of Portland’s premier circus company, the Wanderlust Circus (Endless Road, White Album Christmas). This will be Vagabond Opera’s second collaboration with the circus. Queen of Knives opens in May 2010 in Portland.
About the Cast
Scot Crandal as Henry
Scot Crandal is a Classical, Jazz and Rock Singer, Pianist, Composer and Conductor based in Portland, Oregon. He has appeared as tenor soloist with Portland Opera, Opera Theater Oregon, Willamette Concert Opera, St. Mary’s Cathedral and Choral Arts Ensemble. He has performed with national and international jazz artists such as Gene Harris, Bill Berry, Marshall Royal and Ron Steen. Scot’s rock singing has been heard with bands like Thunder Flea, Karaoke from Hell and Vernacular Wood. Examples of his commissioned work include compositions for soprano, Jocelyn Thomas, Grant High School Choir, Voce Bella and Trinity Cathedral Portland. Much of Scot’s music is published by MorningStar Music and OCP. Scot is the director of music at The Episcopal Parish of St. John the Baptist on the campus of Oregon Episcopal School and regularly conducts music by composers including Palestrina, Bach, Mozart and Leo Nestor.
Ashia Grzesik as Katrina
Harnessing her rousing vocals and whimsical, gutsy cello lines, Ashia Grzesik creates songs with elements of cabaret, folk, blues, and pop/punk. Her talents and hard work in classical cello training and voice were noticed at the age of 21, as she was invited to play cello and sing at Cirque du Soleil’s production of “O” in Las Vegas, NV. Her experience with circus performers infected her with a strong interest in theatrical and cabaret performance and upon leaving “O”, she continued to perform theatrically, including in Seattle’s vaudeville Moisture Festival. Ashia has performed in Berlin, her birth city Wroclaw Poland and currently lives in Portland, OR extensively performing her solo works as well as with The Portland Cello Project and Vagabond Opera.
Catherine Olson as Esmeralda
The stage work of Catherine Olson ranges from 17th Century Opera to American Songbook and an array of contemporary works. Recent roles include Pamina (Die Zauberflöte, Oregon Opera Theatre), Cupid (Orpheus in the Underworld, Eugene Opera) and Meg (Brigadoon, Oregon Festival of American Music), as well as work on contemporary music projects, including film music by José Sánchez-Verdú to the original vampire film Nosferatu at Potsdam and Konzerthaus Berlin.
Eric Stern as The Barker
Eric Stern is the Northwest’s own premiere operatic tenor, accordionist, pianist, composer and consummate showman, an unparalleled devo with incendiary stage presence and devilish virtuosity. Trained in Europe he has performed there and in the U.S. and Canada garnering critical acclaim for his musicianship and his stunningly imaginative songwriting. In Portland Oregon he leads Vagabond Opera, a Balkan Arabic Klezmer-based, original absurdist cabaret ensemble. Eric Stern composes, arranges, fronts, and is the lyricist for the band. He is also the co-founder, accordionist, and singer of Hazz Hazz Hulu an Arabic and Turkish ensemble. Eric Stern has appeared on NPR and in New York City, Paris, Seattle, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Philadelphia, Portland, and Santa Fe. Most recently Eric Stern has played throughout the Northwest at the Oregon Country Fair, Tractor Tavern, The Willamette Valley Folk Festival,The Fez, Sam Bond’s Garage, McMenamin’s Summer Concert Series, Dante’s, Rose Garden Amphitheater, MusicFest Northwest and opening for Al Franken at the Oregon Democratic Fundraiser. He appears on the Decemberist’s latest album and performs as a solo act or with the Eric Stern Trio.
About Noah Mickens
Noah Mickens is the Ringmaster of the Portland Freak Underground. He helms or has helmed such top-shelf entertainment operations as Victorianesque circus Batty’s Hippodrome, nightmare ritual troupe Societas Insomnia, post-asiatic chamber noise ensemble Nequaquam Vacuum, radical queercore arts collective 2Gyrlz Performative Arts, dirty variety review Cabaret Babylon, global nomadic music collective Radon, and revolutionary freakshow The 999 Eyes Of Endless Dream. In addition to the aforementioned troupes; his work as a theatrical director has included a butoh adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream co-directed with Mizu Desierto, dark fairytale noise musical Bogville co-directed with NagaSita, and post-apocalyptic rock opera Day of the Zombie composed by Zombie Dan Abbott. He’ll take you off like a Saturday.
About Vagabond Opera
Bohemian Cabaret ensemble Vagabond Opera is described by the Washington Post as “A band of ceaseless charisma, boundless energy, impeccable musicianship and more than a little touch of both the naughty and exotic.” The group delivers passionate offerings of Bohemian cabaret for young and old. Paris hot jazz, gut bucket swing, tangos, Ukrainian folk-punk ballads, klezmer and vigorous originals meet a world of riverboat gambling queens, Turkish belly dancers, and the enigmatic Marlene Dietrich. 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–lusty voices singing in 13 languages and presenting a cabaret of rich 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!
About Wanderlust Circus
The finest acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, and maestrae of other exotic disciplines gather together beneath the banner of Wanderlust Circus. From their base of operations at Portland Bossanova Ballroom, Wanderlust is devoted to extending the scintillant tendrils of the New Circus until every waking creature has been entertained. Co-producers Noah Mickens (Bogville, Societas Insomnia) and Nick the Creature (Circo Romani, CellSpace) have brought capacity crowds to such landmark events as The White Album Christmas, Cirque L’Amour, The Wonderland Circus, and an immense bandshell in the midst of a pouring rainstorm at Oregon Country Fair.