• Exclusive Interview with Noah Stewart - Opera in the Pines in Cary NC on May 17

    [Opera Lively interview # 130] As part of our coverage for the upcoming outdoor concert Opera in the Pines by North Carolina Opera in Cary, NC on May 17, 2014 at 7 PM (Koka Booth Amphitheater, rain or shine) we interviewed tenor Noah Stewart. See Opera Lively's full announcement with more details including the artistic information about the other three singers (Hailey Clark, Ted Federle, and Kate Farrar) by clicking [here]. Tickets ($37, $25, and free for children under 14) may be purchased online at www.ncopera.org or by phone at 919.792.3850. We've heard all four singers before, and they are all good. The Koka Booth Amphitheater is a great lakeside venue with a lawn where patrons can bring their own pic-nic baskets including alcoholic beverages, or they can purchase drinks and meal packages from the venue. This will be a fun evening of opera, not to be missed.

    Noah is a very intelligent and charming young man. His career is in frank ascension, including a successful CD in the United Kingdom, and performances at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. We've already listened to him and met him in person when he was Manrico in NC Opera's Il Trovatore in 2012, and it is our pleasure to meet him again. Our readers will love to learn some interesting and compelling facts in his biography.

    Get more details about Noah at the artist's website: [click here]

    Noah's upcoming schedule:

    Those who aren't close to North Carolina, USA, will be able to hear Noah in several venues: he is next is Lisbon, Portugal for Beethoven's 9th Simphony on May 30, then on June 21 he has a concert in London and another one in Wales on July 9. The Tanglewood Festival in Massachusets sees him again for Beethoven's 9th on August 24, then Nashville Opera has engaged him for La Bohème (October 9, 11), and Michigan Opera Theater for Madama Butterfly (November 15, 19, 22). In 2015 he is back to Covent Garden for Madama Butterfly.


    Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Noah Stewart

    © Opera Lively - Disclaimer: this exclusive interview is copyrighted by Opera Lively with all rights reserved, and is not to be reproduced without express authorization. Brief excerpts can be used after consultation (use the Contact Us form) as long as proper credit and a link to the full interview on Opera Lively are provided. Links to the interview can be posted without authorization.

    Credits - Questions by Opera Lively journalist Luiz Gazzola. Photos used with permission from the singer's web site and sent from NC Opera; credits unknown (we'll gladly add credits if they are sent to us); fair promotional use.

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - You have a compelling “rags to riches” story, with your tag line “from Harlem to Royal Opera House.” You were raised by a single mother in Harlem, and got admitted to the prestigious Harlem School for the Arts and the Fiorello LaGuardia High School, where you were discovered by the great Leontyne Price and recommended for admission to Juilliard, were you studied with support from Bill Cosby. That’s quite a story; please give us details, starting by how you first got interested in classical music.

    Noah Stewart - Thank Luiz for your introduction. I first discovered classical music when I auditioned for the choir in junior high school. My mother was a single parent of two children and worked a full job. She encouraged me to take up as many activities as possible, so I would never get bored. While in choir, we sang in over six languages to the styles of jazz, musical theater, classical and folk. I was hooked on classical music, because I found it fascinating and didn't see many boys who looked like me in the world of opera.

    OL - What was your first memory of Leontyne Price?

    NS - My first memory of Leontyne Price was on video. After discovering classical music in Junior High, I became obsessed in gathering as much information as I could about this unique art form. La Guardia High School was the next and perfect step for me in my artistic and academic progression. I would arrive early to school almost everyday to listen and watch the music collection in the vocal arts office. I saw a beautiful black woman on the cover of the laser disc of Verdi's Requiem. That woman was Leontyne Price. The beauty, strength and distinct timbre of her voice floored me. I literally wore that recording out. I probably should donate a DVD this year. It provided a great deal of inspiration, also in part because my other hero, the great Luciano Pavarotti was the tenor soloist. In my senior year, I got to meet Leontyne Price during an album release and I told her how much she impacted my dream to become an opera singer. She told me that Juilliard would be the best place for me and gave me great advice. The last words she left me with were "Give 'em hell!"

    Price, Cossotto, Pavarotti, and Ghiaurov
    La Scala, Messa da Requiem, von Karajan, 1967

    OL - How did Bill Cosby notice you?

    NS - After high school I was accepted on scholarship at the Juilliard School. Immediately people took notice and I was also offered a scholarship to the Aspen School of Music. Unfortunately it was only a partial scholarship and my mother said that we couldn't afford to go. Later that month, my mother read that Bill Cosby was to appear at a jazz club in the West Village. Mom wrote a letter which told of her son willing to become an opera singer and dropped it off with the bouncer at the club. A little less than a month later, we received a check for the remainder of the tuition. Mr. and Mrs. Cosby are a few of many Angels who have helped, looked after and supported me throughout my life and career.

    OL - Wow, that was a great gesture! I understand that you worked for the Metropolitan Opera Gift Shop, and you were a receptionist at Carnegie Hall.

    NS - Yes, that's correct. My first job was working at the Met Gift Shop. Being the opera nerd that I was, I listened, bought and studied the annals of opera recordings. I was literally in hog heaven. Soon after graduating Juilliard, I decided to take a receptionist position at Carnegie Hall to get me closer to music. Within a year I left the position and went back to hosting and cater waitering. If I couldn't sing at Carnegie, I simply didn't want to be there. A year later, I made my debut in Mozart's Requiem as the tenor soloist.

    OL - Then you got to the Merola program in San Francisco and became an Adler fellow. Can you tell us how did it happen, and what went through your mind when you were auditioning there?

    NS - After Juilliard I was a bit burnt out and felt like I needed to stretch my non singer wings for a year at the advice from the great conductor, Anton Guadangno. He said, "your voice is already more developed than that of a tenor of your age. You will look odd and stick out singing comprimarial roles and you don't have enough experience singing full roles for your voice." He felt that I would waste my time in a graduate program and studying privately would be the better plan. I took his advice and turned down a scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music. My original year off quickly became three years. I became discouraged from hearing that I was still "too green" and also told that I should think about pursuing another career path from a few professionals in the business. Their criticism prompted me to push harder and audition one last time for the Merola Program at San Francisco Opera. During my audition for some of the top heads of opera in the US, the panel asked me, "Noah, with a voice like that, where have you been?" I thought to myself, "Carnegie Hall, Macy's and Hosting in Restaurants in New York" .

    OL - Operagasm has named you number four in the top ten list of opera hotties, male and female. Your good looks are certainly impressive. How do you see the cult of image in opera, in this era of high definition TV? It's got to be hard for those who, unlike you, aren’t blessed with good genes both for looks and for voice. [For Operagasm's full list with Anna Netrebko as #1 and Jonas Kaufmann as #2, click (here)]

    NS - I consider myself an old school artist with a new school look. When I decided to become an opera singer, it was because I loved music and loved opera. Many of my friends chose pop music and R & B for more glamorous career profiles. My teacher during the latter part and after Juilliard was Igor Chichaigov, who was also Rosa Ponselle's pianist and coach. We worked at me being the best tenor that I could be. We singers spend most of our time in practice rooms and in theatres. I was never stuck on looks, but did loose almost 70 pounds while at Juilliard. I did it because I wanted to become healthier, being that diabetes and high blood pressure runs in my family. It so happened that the career changed while I was coming up and things became very media driven. Now younger singers have an extra pressure on them, which I feel detracts from the importance of the voice.

    OL - As a young singer, you were given a golden opportunity, that of having recorded already your first CD for DECCA, which topped the classical charts in the UK for 7 weeks in 2012. Were you surprised with this much success?

    Available on Amazon.com for $11.98; click [here]

    NS - I was, because I had no intention of becoming a recording artist. I broke the rules of many, by crossing over before I was an operatic household name to most, but I was blessed that the opportunity came my way. The album helped me retrace my roots as a singer and lover of many styles of music and take the pressure of the operatic grind, which can feel quite narrow in focus, but rewarding at the same time.

    OL - Your selection for your CD has included opera and crossover. Growing up in Harlem, you must have received a mix of other musical influences. I learned that you once sang back-up for Mariah Carey, and you were seen on the Late Show with David Letterman with rapper Coolio. Tell me about your musical influences.

    NS - I grew up listening to jazz and blues of Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Sarah Vaughn, as well as pop and rock. The jazz and blues came from my mother's New Orleans roots (born and raised) and the pop side came from my sister's stereo, where Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince rained over all mortals.

    OL - Another extraordinary event was the opportunity to create a role, since you were featured in the world premiere of Philip Glass’ Appomattox. Would you please tell us about your role, and the challenges of singing contemporary opera?

    NS - Modern and Contemporary music have played a big role in my early career and development, mostly because I'm a quick study and I love to interpret new roles. Acting is very important to me and feeds my soul. Creating a role in a new piece also takes the pressures of being constantly compared to the ghosts of our favourite singers of the past. In Appomattox, I performed the role of T. Morris Chester, who was the first black reporter in the US. His reports during the Civil War put him on the forefront on the issue and demoralisation of slavery.

    OL - You had your debut at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden as Hassan in Judith Wier’s Miss Fortune, a role you premiered for the Bregenzer Festspiele in the Summer of 2012, and you will return to the ROH as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly. Please describe to us the emotion of singing in that prestigious house.

    NS - 2012 was a magical year for me. It was the year of many important events such as my UK debuts, the record, and Covent Garden debut. To tell you the truth, I never stopped to take it in. I think if I did, perhaps fear would have gotten in the way. I did however thank God that I was given the opportunity to perform on the stage that so many of my heroes had graced. It was a magical experience. I'm looking forward to Pinkerton next season.

    OL - Your resumé includes a wide variety of styles from Baroque to Contemporary. What is the repertory you feel most vocally comfortable with?

    NS - I most feel comfortable in the full lyric Italian repertory. When I was in high school, my teacher said "you will be a spinto tenor." My teacher, Maestro Chichiagov confirmed and listed all the roles that would best suit my voice. The waiting game has been the most challenging for me, but I am thankful for being patient and working diligently throughout the process.

    OL - How would you describe the characteristics of your voice?

    NS - Lyric with heroic ring. Classic Lirico-Spinto. Beauty with ring. Most people confuse my voice because there is a trend for tenors to over-darken the voice, but if you look at all the great heroic tenors in the past, you will hear and read that brightness that is a clear component to balance the sound and registration.

    OL - What are your next operatic goals as your career continues to evolve?

    NS - To continue to add new roles each year; to continue to refine my technique and become the best musician I can be.

    OL - What can the North Carolina public expect of this compelling concert Opera in the Pines?

    Hailey Clark

    The Koka Booth Amphitheater

    NS - The audiences of North Carolina are in for a real treat. They will hear not only some of their operatic favorites, but also some of the favorites of musical theater and song. The other three artists featured are Hailey Clark, Kate Ferrar and Ted Federle. I'm very excited to share the stage with them for this unique and fun concert.

    OL - Now, switching back to you as a person rather than an artist, how do you describe your personality and your take on life?

    NS - I consider myself to be a positive and encouraging person. I believe that we as people are blessed with many talents and abilities and are deserving of the utmost happiness in life, whichever path we choose to take.

    OL - Are there social causes that are dear to you and you have plans to make an impact on?

    NS - Yes, whichever city I am in, I try to speak to as many young people as I can, to encourage them to follow their dreams. I was lucky to have people encourage me along the way and it's my duty and honor to give back.

    OL - What do you like to do outside of music?

    NS - I love the outdoors and to go on long runs, art museums, the cinema, the beach; but most of all enjoy my family and friends.


    Let's listen to the singer in this beautiful black-and-white video clip:


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