Arts and Entertainment

East Village Opera Company: They’re gonna rock you, Amadeus

The East Village Opera Company is a nine-piece fusion of classical rock and pop music through the venue of old opera songs. - Photos above and right  courtesy of Susan Cukiernik
The East Village Opera Company is a nine-piece fusion of classical rock and pop music through the venue of old opera songs.
— image credit: Photos above and right courtesy of Susan Cukiernik

Take everything you’ve ever known about opera and strip it down to nothing but the music.

In fact, take it even further.

Strip off the old-style orchestral layers. Bring down the painfully wailing vocals from the solemn solo soprano. Disregard the drawn-out, cumbersome and sometimes cryptic story lines.

Down to nothing but the notes and melodies, music on paper.

Now, build it all back up employing modern-day sonic tools like distorted guitars, drum kits, samplers and synthesizers, add a modern-day string trio and pop vocalists, and you’ll get the East Village Opera Company.

“It’s not a radical idea,” EVOC co-founder/keyboardist/producer/arranger Peter Kiesewalter said. “The concept of playing old music on new instruments is as old as music itself.”

But an East Village Opera Company show is “unlike anything you’ve ever seen,” he added.

It’s something of a time warp.

Deconstructing opera: What happens when you mix the some of the world’s oldest music with today’s modern tools?

“Keep in mind,” Kiesewalter noted. “These composers were the rock stars of their time. If they were alive today, they’d be using guitars and microphones and computers and pro tools ... they were trying to write hits.”

With that in mind, the EVOC has taken those operatic and classic hits and applied a modern-day, hit-making pop formula. A little bit opera, a little bit rhythm and blues and a lot of rock and roll.

Kiesewalter warns regular opera-goers to remember the ear plugs for this rollick.

To be fair, even though he’s a classically trained clarinetist, Kiesewalter was never really a huge fan of the opera.

He had played in rock bands throughout his formative years. He met the other EVOC founder Tyler Ross on the set of an operatic-themed movie which they were both working on in New York.

“You’ve never heard of it, you’ll never see it,” Kiesewalter said.

Ross was playing an opera singer and Kiesewalter was composing the soundtrack. The film called for a score of Italian opera, but Kiesewalter didn’t have an orchestra at his disposal and Ross wasn’t really an opera singer.

“So I stripped the songs of the normal orchestration, I started with the melody and the lyric and treated them just as that — songs,” Kiesewalter said.

While the movie evidently flopped, the concept behind that soundtrack remained for both Kiesewalter and Ross, and even emboldened a greater love for the opera.

“It wasn’t until this film project, until I started to do a bit more research, that I started to realize how great these songs were,” Kiesewalter said. “Once you discover the heart of this music, it’s pretty incredible stuff.”

Once he discovered the heart of it himself, Kiesewalter teamed up with Ross and a fusion of other musicians he’d known from New York’s classical and rock scenes, for a one-time-only kind of concert and CD release, which ended up founding the East Village Opera Company for better or worse.

They were each finally in stable careers, making good money as musicians, then the EVOC had inadvertently become somewhat of a house band at a local pub and within months, Kiesewalter said, Universal records was knocking at the door.

And they answered.

“We’ve kind of hit on something here that seems to respond to an extremely wide demographic,” Kiesewalter said. “People who’ve never heard of opera are getting a kick out of this and people who love the opera seem to get a kick out of it too.”

Meanwhile Kiesewalter and crew are getting back to life as traveling musicians.

They’re coming to the Pacific Northwest for the first time ever this year, making a stops in Bremerton, Longview, Covington, Edmonds and Yakima bringing their versions of compositions from hundreds-of-years old music like Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly,” Bizet’s “Carmen.”

“The names of these operas might not resonate with a lot of people who haven’t been to the opera, but as soon as they hear the first two or three bars, they’ll know,” Kiesewalter said.

It shouldn’t matter much whether or not you can name that tune, this is more of a rock show than a night at the opera.

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