Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.
Sound Bites: Noah Stewart
Photographed in New York by Dario Acosta
Grooming by Affan Malik
© Dario Acosta 2013
Noah Stewart, who sings Don José in Royal Albert Hall performances of Carmen next month, doesn't believe that crossover has to be a dirty word. Ripping a page from the playbooks of operatic populists such as John McCormack and Mario Lanza, the American tenor has built a burgeoning career of equal parts legit opera, microphone-caressing concert performances and recording studio razzle-dazzle.
Stewart's debut album, Noah — part of a five-disc deal with Decca — was released last spring and made him the first black artist to reach the No. 1 position on the U.K. Classical charts. "It's been a crazy adventure — just completely mad," Stewart says of the disc's unexpected success. The recording shows off the tenor's instrument — appealingly brawny yet ductile, with easy access to a sinewy, secure top — in repertoire ranging from an ardently youthful "Recondita armonia" to "Without a Song" to an Italian-language version of "Nights in White Satin" that could probably have been the soundtrack to Little Italy during the early '70s. "I never would have imagined that I would record a crossover CD," says Stewart, "but I didn't want to do a core traditional classical album. It just didn't seem realistic for me to record sixteen arias, eighty percent from roles I have not done yet. Instead I wanted to do an album that really covered many bases."
Raised in Harlem, Stewart first felt the pull of an opera career while enrolled at Manhattan's LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts; he was accepted to Juilliard on a full scholarship and graduated in 2001, before going on to stints at the Martina Arroyo Foundation's Prelude to Performance, San Francisco Opera's Merola Program — he later became an Adler Fellow — and the Academy of Vocal Arts. Since then, a steady stream of U.S. and international opera debuts has affirmed Stewart as a singer remarkable for both the versatility and the sheer musicality of his performances. Forays into the new-music sphere — the Prince in John Adams's A Flowering Tree at Chicago Opera Theater; Augustus Gloop in Peter Ash's The Golden Ticket at Wexford; a sonorous kebab vendor in Judith Weir's Miss Fortune in Bregenz and London — have been balanced alongside conventional rep such as Pinkerton at Opera North and, last summer, Radamès in Glimmerglass's intimately scaled Aida.
Purists looking for Stewart to come down firmly in either the opera or crossover camps as his career progresses may find themselves disappointed. "I would love to do a Hollywood Bowl performance with full orchestra, Lanza-style. Mix it up with 'Una furtiva lagrima' alongside some modern stuff," he says when asked about his dream performance opportunity. "Or, in fifteen, maybe twenty-five years, it would be me singing Forza with a great conductor. If it's great music, it's just great."
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