Noah Stewart - The IndieLondon interview (exclusive)
Preview by Jack Foley
NOAH Stewart talks to us exclusively about his eponymous debut LP and some of the reasons he selected the songs, from Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to Mario Lanza’s I’ll Walk With God.
He also talks about his career to date, including why he became a tenor, singing back-up for Mariah Carey, performing The Star Spangled Banner at Wembley and why he’d like to work with Adele and Kanye West.
Q. How does it feel to be releasing your debut album?
Noah Stewart: I’m thrilled to be releasing my first solo album. It’s hard to believe that it has happened.
Q. It’s a diverse and interesting collection of songs on the album… What does it mean to you to be able to sing I’ll Walk With God given your affection for Mario Lanza? And was it difficult to choose which song of his to include on the album? Why that song in particular?
Noah Stewart: I didn’t want to do an entire opera album, but an album that appealed to a wider range of people and also combined all the genres of music I grew up listening and singing. I’ll Walk With God was one of the first songs I ever heard Mario sing. It’s probably his most famous as well. Being that he was the very first opera/crossover artist who became a movie star, I thought how could I go wrong with choosing this as a selection. Every time I hear the intro, I think of him.
Q. Similarly, how does it feel to have recently won the Mario Lanza Competition for Tenors? Do you have fond memories of that occasion?
Noah Stewart: It meant a lot. Mario is one of my heros not only because of what he did to music and opera by popularizing it, but also because his voice was first class. I can remember the competition day very clearly. It’s rare to have a vocal competition for just tenors, so the competition had an added tension I would say like a competition of the best football goalie in the league. When it came time to perform, I simple enjoyed myself and the crowd went wild. Being a non-Italian tenor made the honour of winning that much more special.
Q. Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah seems to be one of the most popular choices for singers to revisit. What is it about the song that makes it so popular and open to interpretation? How did it speak to you personally?
Noah Stewart: For me, Hallelujah has two important ingredients I look for in a song. One is melody and the other is a great story. Because I was trained as an opera singer, which combines acting with music and language, I was immediately draw to the melody, but also the story. When I first read the lyrics, I could see a storyline take shape. It almost felt like watching a silent film [like The Artist] while I’m singing.
Q. I gather Exodus was inspired by the uprising in Egypt. Can you talk a little about the profound effect it has had on you? And maybe the ongoing situation in countries like Libya and Syria. What did you think about George Clooney’s recent arrest for his protest over Sudan? Would you be motivated to get involved politically in something you believed in?
Noah Stewart: When were were selecting songs for the album, we listened and sang through almost a hundred songs and the minute I heard Exodus, I had to do it. The melody is timeless and our arrangement is grand in every way. I feel a great rush when singing with a big orchestra. It’s like riding a huge wave. What a thrill. When we recorded it, the uprisings in Egypt were taking place. Instead of imagining a situation or story, I was experiencing a most inspiring when I saw such image on TV, online and in the magazines and newspapers. I think it’s important for public figures to get involved in social issues that concern all of us. We are all people living in a world together.
Q. What made you decide to tackle Nights in White Satin in Italian? It’s a language that, in my opinion, does add an extra passion and vitality to anything…
Noah Stewart: It came down to combining ideas again. I love the song Nights in White Satin and I also studied Italian when I was in high-school as a language elective. Most people in New York chose Spanish, being that we have a rich hispanic culture there, but I chose Italian because I had a hunch I would be using it a lot in my future. I guess I was right.
Q. Looking back on your career to this point, how challenging has the journey been from being a receptionist at New York’s Carnegie Hall to being a respected tenor with world-wide appeal and following?
Noah Stewart: Looking back on the hurdles I faced and still face is tremendously humbling. For many years I struggled to find myself and regain my confidence after I graduated from the Juilliard School and very few people said I had what it took. I remember when I was working at Carnegie Hall, It was the closest and furthest away I felt from music and decided I would quit if something didn’t come along. God made a way in his time.
Q. What’s the biggest lesson and best piece of advice you got along the way?
Noah Stewart: Be yourself, courtesy of Mom!
Q. What made you want to become a tenor?
Noah Stewart: I actually wanted to be a baritone and was a baritone in high-school. I felt that Baritones have a heroic speaking voice and making a more grounded and earthy sound. I thought being a tenor didn’t sound as masculine. It wasn’t until one of my first teachers told me that singing tenor is the most difficult and most rewarding. He said: “It’s like walking a tight wire act each time you sing and knowing you will make it across each time.” I wanted to bring the warm earthy quality which I had as a baritone to the ringing higher part of my voice.
Q. How much did you take away from the experience of singing back-up for Mariah Carey?
Noah Stewart: I learned a lot from that one experience. It was the first time I had sung pop music in a studio and thought it was very cool. The energy was exciting. My fellow chorus members at the time were huge Mariah fans, as was I. At that moment, I also new that I wanted to bring this young, fresh, excitement to classical music and opera. I didn’t see too many people who looked like me onstage in that genre and I felt I could fill a void.
Q. You’ve played some memorable characters in your career to date, including Don Jose in Carmen and Rodolfo in La Boheme. How did you enjoy the challenge of those?
Noah Stewart: Rodolfo and Don Jose are probably two of my favourite roles to sing. Partially, because they are young interesting characters to play and also because the music of these two scores is as thrilling to sing as it is to listen to. There’s no secret why La Boheme and Carmen are so popular. They can be quite challenging in many ways.
The first is vocal. Because these are both leading men, the story focuses on them and their music, each with different vocal demands. Opera, of course, combines drama and music, so being an actor is a huge part of it. Every move, every gesture is the characters’. It is challenging pushing the limits both vocally and theatrically, but the end result is pure gold and audiences love it. You can feel the electricity each and every night.
Q. Another career highlight must have been singing the Star Spangled Banner at the NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium last October. How was that? Were there any nerves?
Noah Stewart: It was probably the most nervous I have ever been in my entire life! Even when I saw the playback of the video, I can recount the nerves that I was feeling. Singing the national anthem anywhere is such an honour, because it stands for everything I am as an American. Being asked to perform it for the NFL at Wembley was an honour and privilege.
Q. How are you enjoying working with Judith Weir on Miss Fortune and working at the Royal Opera House?
Noah Stewart: Having the opportunity to work at ROH has been a dream come true. There’s nothing like feeling a connection to an opera house. Everyday I wake up and I’m excited to go to work and think about what will I hear or see today. Being in such a creative and warm enviornment is ideal for me. I have felt so welcomed and supported in a house that is so historic. I remember watching operas on video from the Royal Opera House as a student and to think that I got to make my debut this year is a great accomplishment for me.
Q. How important is it for tenors like yourself and Alfie Boe or Andrea Bocelli to keep re-inventing opera and broadening its appeal to wide listeners and audiences?
Noah Stewart: I grew up singing jazz, Broadway, classical music and gospel, so they all appeal to me personally. I think great music has no boundary and I try to bring freshness at the same time maintaining the integrity of each style of music I record and perform. I think it’s our job and responsibility to bring this great music to the people.
Q. What’s the most gratifying fan response you’ve had?
Noah Stewart: The overwhelming support of my solo album has been amazing.
Q. What does the rest of 2012 hold for you? Will you be touring in support of the album?
Noah Stewart: I will be travelling back to the US for two opera productions. The first being my role debut of Nadir in The Pearl Fishers and then Manrico in Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore. My first solo tour of my album will follow in May and I’m really excited about it.
Q. Who would you like to duet with?
Noah Stewart: I would like to collaborate with many artists both pop and classical. I would love to sing with Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Adele, to work with Kanye West or even a rock band. On the classical side, singing with Sopranos Renee Fleming (as we studied with the same voice teacher at one time) or Anna Netrebko would be pretty great as well.
Q19. Finally, what are the 10 tracks that are never far from your iPod player at the moment?
Noah Stewart: Donny Hathaway – Song for you
Nessun Dorma – Franco Corelli
Didn’t We Almost Have It All – Whitney Houston
Vissi D’arte – Leontyne Price
Michael Jackson (any song)
Ain’t Know Way – Aretha Franklin
Ella Fitzgerald – Mr. Paganini
When A Man Loves A Woman – The Rose – Bette Midler
Giunto Sul Passo Estremo – Carlo Bergonzi
Mario Lanza – I’ll Galk With God
Noah Stewart’s debut solo LP Noah Stewart is available now.