Bits 'n' Pieces: 007 tunes to get shaken with a twist

By Ashley Swanson, Columbian features news coordinator

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photoSoprano Inessa Karakuts Crown will perform a James Bond-themed concert with fellow Vancouver resident and pianist Jim Fischer Nov. 3 at the Old Church in Portland.

Soprano Inessa Karakuts Crown said she has two goals for an upcoming concert with Vancouver pianist Jim Fischer: to show the best features of her native Russian culture and to have fun with the audience. And what's more fun than a James Bond medley?

"From Russia With Song" mixes familiar 007 themes with traditional Russian ballads, lively folk tunes and pop songs such as "Moscow Nights." Fischer will accompany Crown, and offer a few standards and original tunes.

Crown, 38, is a classically trained singer who moved from Moscow to Vancouver in 2001. She met Fischer in 2007.

"Jim is showman, very energetic," she said. "He can just make an audience laugh. He has really good sense of humor. He just makes me increase my talent, (which) inspires me, encourages me. Russian music is more conservative, more formal. Folk music, it's really fun; it's funny, really energetic."

Crown enjoys performing folk songs because there's a give and take with the audience, she said, as people laugh, smile and "dance in their seats." Audiences treat opera, in contrast, with strict seriousness and pay more attention to the performer's technique than a feeling a song is trying to convey.

Crown began singing professionally in her teens with a small children's choir in Moscow.

"We did a lot of performing before the president in the Red Square in Moscow, so there were many concerts in front of ministers of the president. Close private performances, too, just specific for them," she said. "We sang so in tune beautifully, all voices like being like one."

She went on to earn a degree, was a soloist and a music teacher, and sang with ensembles that toured Russia and other eastern European countries. As Crown was just starting to reach the next level as a professional in Moscow, deep ties to her own country made the decision to move to the U.S. difficult.

"Already 12 years here, I'm still learning English. There's a lot of (different) kinds of secrets (to the language)."

Folk songs are also reflective of the Russian spirit, said Crown, with an up-tempo beat often masking sad lyrics at the core.

"That's what Russian music is, just a mix with sad words with absolutely funny music."

She's found that American audiences are more than appreciative of her voice, even if they don't understand the words. In Russia, she was used to audiences listening for a less-than-perfect performance.

"They will mostly judge you instead of encourage," she said, comparing Russian audience reaction with the enthusiasm she has received from American audiences. In return, Crown said, "I would like to show Americans the good side of Russian culture."

The concert is 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Ave., Portland. Tickets are $15 to $20. Visit fromrussiawithsong.brownpapertickets.com.


Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.