Noah Stewart

SF Choral's Verdi Requiem

Sfcs-verdi-requiem-2016* Notes *
My review of San Francisco Choral Society's Requiem by Verdi is up on San Francisco Classical Voice.

* Tattling *
The adolescent girl (who was there with her little brother and their mother) in front of me in Row H of the Orchestra level, had a seat for her purse that was full of cellular phones and a big bouquet. She took many selfies as we waited for the performance to begin.

The children behind me ate candy doled out in plastic bags during the entire performance. This was evidently to bribe them to stay occupied and silent as their mother sang. It was effective except that the bags rustled at times but I must be getting more tolerant or nicer or something, because it didn't really bother me that much, if at all.

Noah Stewart Interview

Noah StewartTenor Noah Stewart (pictured left, photograph by Mitch Jenkins) is singing the world premiere of Steven Stucky's The Stars and the Roses with Berkeley Symphony this Thursday.

How did you start singing?
I first started singing when I needed extra school activities while at junior high school in New York City. I was drawn to a diverse mix of musical styles ranging from jazz to Broadway and back. Before the age of 12, I had already sung in Latin, German, French, Swahili, and Hebrew. It definitely set the stage for an international career.

La costanza in amor vince l'inganno was the first opera you performed in, which seems unusual. How did that come about?
When I was a senior at LaGuardia High School or "The Fame School," I was given the options of Gospel Chorus or Opera Workshop. Most of my friends chose gospel, as it was closer to pop music, while I chose opera. At this stage, I was truly obsessed with opera and would jump at the chance for free tickets at the Met to see some of my favorite singers like Pavarotti and Jessye Norman.

Aminta, from Caldara's La costanza in amor vince l'inganno, was my first operatic role. (Tenor great, Beniamino Gigli frequently included songs like "Sebben, crudele" in his concerts.) My opera workshop teacher would stay after school teaching the recitatives, because he saw this passion for opera within me. Interestingly enough, it was the North American premiere of that opera. I wasn't your ordinary 16-year-old, I would say. By the time I auditioned for Juilliard, I had already sung with full orchestras for three years as a soloist for regular mass and oratorio performances while in high school.

Do you like creating roles, as for Appomattox?
I have been very fortunate to have had experience singing traditional repertory as well as contemporary music in my career. I enjoy working along side living composers and creating roles like T. Morris Chester in Glass' Appomattox here at SFO. It's nice to not have constant comparisons to artists and ghosts of the past. It also keeps up my technique as far as learning music.

What are your favorite operas?
At this time, my favorite operas to perform are those of the leading Italian and French heroic roles. I feel that the timbre and weight of my voice lends itself to the music of Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, and Massenet. I also enjoy the dramatic and physical challenges of a role like Don José, the dangerous soldier and lover in Bizet's Carmen.

How did you choose the pieces on your debut CD?
The music selections for the CD were made between the producer, creative team from Universal/Decca and myself.

How has working with Joana Carneiro and Berkeley Symphony been?
I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Joana at Chicago Opera Theater on John Adams' A Flowering Tree. She is one of my favorite conductors around. Not only is she an incredible musician, but the sheer passion that she displays inspires me whenever I see her perform.

Tell me about the piece you are debuting.
The piece that I am premiering is comprised of three songs. The texts are poems written by Czesław Miłosz and the music is composed by Steven Stucky. The themes are nature and love, and are beautifully set.

Which singers to you look up to?
The singers of whom I look up to are the singers of the Golden Age. I collect historical recordings and often play them for inspiration and guidance. My favorite tenor and singer is Enrico Caruso who really changed what a leading tenor sounded like, combining a rich color capable of beautiful lyrical and dramatic shadings. The first time I saw and heard the voice of Leontyne Price, I was in love. It's like fine crystal and anyone I speak to who had the chance to hear her soprano says the sound was simply stunning. Other favorites include Gigli, Ponselle, Verrett, Bumbry, Callas, Corelli, and Cappucilli to name just a few.

You are really diligent with tweeting, how do you keep up?
I try to make time for it like so many things. The life of the modern day opera singer is very different from that of yesteryear. Being a New Yorker, I had to become good at multitasking.

What is your fitness regimen?
I try to do yoga as much as I can while on the road. I feel that it centers and helps me focus, as well as helps my breath in singing. I also love to enjoy the food and culture of every country and city I visit, so a gym membership is a must!

The picture you took of custard tarts from Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon was really cute. Are they really good for the voice?
They are good for the voice. Art is fed from life and great experiences. To be a great artist, you must be a communicator of many emotions. We feel special connections to our favorite people and artists. We do so because they are able to translate their experience through different mediums and forms of art. That custard definitely makes my High C a bit shinier, or so I like to think so.

Il Trovatore at Festival Opera

Il Trovatore at Festival Opera * Notes *
Festival Opera, the third largest opera company in the Bay Area, opened the 2008 season with Il Trovatore yesterday at the Hofmann Theatre. Giulio Cesare Perrone's production is straightforward, his set design is simple but evocative, only small changes are made for the different scenes. The only obvious weak point was in Act I Scene 4,  when Leonora mistakes Di Luna for Manrico. Everyone was quite visible during the scene, so in Act I Scene 5 (pictured above, photo by Robert Shomler), when Leonora realizes she was wrong and sings "Ah, dalle tenebre tratta in errore io fui," one must work hard at suspending disbelief. Naturally, this was not helped by the fact that the Count di Luna, Scott Bearden (on the right), could hardly look more distinct from Noah Stewart (on the left) as Manrico. So when the supertitles flashed something like "the darkness deceived me," the audience tittered, and the woman next to me commented that "it must have been very dark."

The period costumes from Susanna Douthit were attractive, though I was confused by the gypsies at first, for some of them looked like normal citizens of Berkeley on any given day. I thought the gypsies were dressed in contemporary clothing, but after a second look, I realized it was because just a few of the women's exposed hairstyles looked fairly modern. Likewise Azucena could have been in a tribal belly dance troupe, particularly because of the designs painted on her face.

Michael Morgan conducted at a good clip, and the orchestra sounded fine. There were a few strange notes from the French horn, but only near the beginning. There were times when the chorus was not quite with the orchestra, undoubtedly this will improve with time. The anvils were played by choristers, and they were not all exactly on the beat. The organ in Act III Scene 2 sounded rather canned, it came out of the speakers, one of which sputtered for half a second.

In the smaller roles, tenor Alexander Taite (Ruiz) and mezzo-soprano Jessica Mariko Deardorff (Ines) both sang well and fit the look of their parts. Kirk Eichelberger had a rather big-voiced Ferrando, at least for this space, his bass is somewhat gravelly but not unpleasant. Mezzo Patrice Houston had some deep, lovely tones as Azucena, but she could also be rather terrifying. Her breathing was noticeable and some of her pitches were not convincing, but for the most part she did well. Scott Bearden was slightly off key in his Act II Scene 2 aria "Il balen del suo sorriso," but his voice has good heft and warmth.

I was most interested in soprano Hope Briggs (Leonora), as she was to sing Donna Anna last summer at San Francisco Opera, but was, to her dismay, replaced by Elza Van den Heever at the last moment. Briggs started off with a distinctly nasal sound, her voice strong, strident, and muscular. A couple of her arpeggios were strained, but for the most part, she sang well. She was moving in her last scene, fully convincing as the self-sacrificing heroine.

In the title role, former Adler Fellow Noah Stewart had a great deal of vibrato for his first high notes off stage. He also seemed to run out of breath at the end of the famous "Di quella pira." Otherwise Stewart sang admirably, he was plaintive in  "Sconto col sangue mio," this has a bone-chilling beauty. Stewart will be covering at the Met next season, certainly he is one to watch.

* Tattling *
I was dreadfully late as I find Walnut Creek difficult to navigate. Although I have been to the Lesher Center for the Arts before and it is only half a mile south of the Walnut Creek Bart station, I still managed to become lost. In my flustered state, there was a bit of a mix up at the box office, so I only took my seat at 8:00pm exactly.

The orchestra level looked very full, but the audience was fairly polite. The talking was limited to the aforementioned scene, whispering was at a minimum and not during the singing. No watch alarms were noted, but unfortunately, there was a phone ring at the beginning of Act IV. At least it was during the recicative. During the quieter moments, some speaking was audible from the lighting booth, though this was less disruptive during the second half of the performance.

Many of the usual suspects attended this performance, and afterwards I cornered Merolino apprentice coach Allen Perriello during the reception. Albert Herring, which opens next Friday, sounds like it is going well. Noah Stewart and Hope Briggs were inundated with fans and supporters, but I did manage to speak briefly with the former.

Opening of Macbeth

Thomas Hampson and Georgina Lukács, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
It was as expected, the audience at the Macbeth opening was, on the whole, discontent with the production and even booed the members of production team that dared to take bows. That is quite a feat, the last time I heard Americans boo at a production was five years ago at Alcina. Personally I found Alcina to be more offensive than this Macbeth, since the former is more inaccessible to a general audience and an alienating staging just makes matters worse. Additionally, David Pountney's Macbeth production has a lot of intentionally absurd elements, and somehow the earnestness of the Alcina was particularly grating. Incidentally, both of these productions are on DVD (
Alcina and Macbeth), should you want to view them.

Despite the silliness of Marie Jeanne Lecca's fashion don'ts (pink and red witch costumes, Lady Macbeth's S & M dress, the Star Trek outfits on the murderers), the hula hooping, paper mummies, and drag queens, it was all a little boring. The person in front of me fell asleep at one point. The set, designed by Stefanos Lazaridis, was not terribly fascinating, just one round room with huge gash in the ceiling and a box with doors that got shoved about. It was too noisy, of course moving the box around wasn't at all quiet, but particularly in the parts in which curtains were drawn over the back wall. The first time this happened, during a scene change in Act II, I was able to hear some stage directions.

The choreography was likewise loud, Vivienne Newport has a witch hula hooping, paper mummies tearing themselves, Birnam Wood banging on the box, and the chorus inexplicably taping up the side of box at the end. The hula hooping and the Wood were, at best, cute, but the mummies and tape were obnoxious. The choreography for the witches was overly busy, but the chorus did well. As did Georgina Lukács as Lady Macbeth, her movements were terrifying, very predatory and slightly revolting.

The Adlers in this production were all great: Noah Stewart (Malcolm), Jeremy Galyon (A Doctor), and Elza van den Heever (A Lady in Waiting) had small roles but sang well. Raymond Aceto sang Banquo with good volume, but his voice is somewhat thin. Tenor Alfredo Portilla was a mournful and suitable Macduff, his aria in the beginning of Act IV was fine though a few of his high notes toward the end were strained. The Lady Macbeth, Georgina Lukács, had impressive acting, but lacked control of her voice. She sounded lovely in her lower range, but her higher notes wobbled a great deal. Thomas Hampson has suitable gravity and pathos for the role of Macbeth, and sang well. His fine volume and rich tone were pleasing. 

* Tattling *
The turnout was poor for an opening night, but perhaps it was because of the
Obama rally that took place nearby or possibly fatigue from last week's opening of La Rondine. Many people were late because streets were closed for the rally, but they were seated during the short pause between Acts I and II. Standing room only had a few dozen people, I was all alone at the box office until 9:10 am, when a small line started forming for the rush tickets. Too bad there weren't any available, and no sign indicating so. It was odd given that I saw many open seats, most standees found seats without a problem.

The audience was subdued during the performance, as the aforementioned sleeping will attest to. A pair of men in Y 18 and 20 of the orchestra were very upset by the production, and I kept laughing at this, because it was so darling. I laughed so much at the booing I could not manage to boo myself.

Appomattox Opening

Dwayne Croft, photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
Appomattox had its world premiere last Friday. I must confess I do not enjoy contemporary music, in fact, I am not overfond of many operas after Fidelio. This is ridiculous, given that this encompasses Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini. Setting that aside, I found Appomattox rather less challenging than Doctor Atomic, Le Grand Macabre, or Saint François d'Assise. I even got the chorus of Jimmie Lee stuck in my head after the final dress rehearsal, and noted that this was the only part that garnered applause during the music.

As for singing, I thought it was something of a shame that all the lead female roles were filled with Adler Fellows. It is not that they are not good or have poor voices, but they do lack experience. Particularly with Julia Dent Grant, the role is prominent and may have been better with someone with more control of her voice. Rhoslyn Jones, who sings this role, has a big voice with lots of vibrato. Her voice is pleasing in her middle range. I remember her quite clearly as Frasquita in Carmen last season, so she is, at least, consistent and distinct. On the other hand, it was difficult to tell that is was Elza van den Heever in the role of Mary Custis Lee, the role did not show off how pretty her voice can be. Her Southern accent was not as prominent as it could have been, at times she dropped it. Ji Young Yang's accent as Julia Agnes Lee was certainly not Southern, her alveolar approximant /ɹ/,had a certain lateral quality.  Yang's voice is otherwise bright and very pretty. Heidi Melton sang well as Mary Todd Lincoln, though her voice is a bit harsh in the higher range too. Her acting was strong. Kendall Gladen was the only mezzo, as Elizabeth Keckley, and she sounded lovely, though she was quieter than Melton, with whom she sang.

Dwayne Croft was excellent as Robert E. Lee, his voice is sweet and he carried himself in a suitably dignified manner. There were a couple of times that his voice was overwhelmed but the orchestra, but I suspect this is partially because I was in orchestra standing room, where quieter voices sometimes get lost. Andrew Shore was slightly less appealing as Ulysses S. Grant, but his American accent was clear and he was always audible. He sang a duet with Julia Dent Grant in Act I Scene 3 that was particularly moving. For the other male roles, tenor and Adler Noah Stewart stood out as T. Morris Chester, his acting was stirring and his voice carried well.

* Tattling *
Sara Jobin did not seem comfortable giving the opera talk, she looked at her watch many times. The conductor did sing parts of the opera, since there were no recordings for her to play, and that was absolutely charming. The orchestra and boxes looked full, though I heard the attendance up in the balcony was sparser. There was a little whispering, but for the most part everyone was respectful and quiet. The work received a standing ovation.