What do we expect from a boy from Harlem? Well, in 2011, absolutely anything! Ten years ago, if someone had told me I’d be standing in a church in Marylebone listening to a young man from Harlem singing ‘Without A Song’ from the 1920’s musical Great Day I would have struggled to believe them! But here I am, listening to Noah Stewart, the worlds next big p’opera star.
A decade ago we were in the throws of Nu Metal, a subgenre of heavy metal – spawned by a generation who had grown up on Metallica and wanted their own revolution. And there was Nu Soul via the Bristol Trip Hop and the American Hip Hop scenes, we witnessed Generation X’s take on the classic soul formula. Now I’ve witnessed the birth of Nu Classical. Ok, with its pedigree, its beginnings probably weren’t as underground (the club night Yellow Lounge in the Pit Bar at the Old Vic is probably the closest this movement has ever got to slumming it) but we are witnessing a wave of underground classical nightclubs and gigs, populated by young and beautiful opera singers, classical musicians and even Classical VJs and DJs. This is more than Neo Classical, this is a revolution. And the face of that revolution? A beautiful young black man with a shaved head, the smile of Taye Diggs and the voice of Rolando Villazon.
Hailing from the Harlem School Of The Arts, by the age of 12 Noah was doing voice work for Sesame Street and after-school specials, before attending the Fiorello LaGuardia High School. He became a backing singer, and showing his versatility sang for people like Hootie And The Blowfish, Mariah Carey and Coolio, until deciding he wanted to peruse a career in Opera, winning a full scholarship to The Juilliard School in New York. Since then he has wowed the world gaining rave reviews in both classical and contemporary opera, and came first place in the Mario Lanza Competition for Tenors. Now, he’s recorded an album for classical label Decca, which will come out next year.
I was lucky enough to attend Noah’s first London gig in a beautiful church opposite Regents Park and, while scoffing burgers speared with American flags (it was thanksgiving, after all) I was treated to Noah’s gorgeous and versatile voice making its way through everything from Puccini to Procal Harum (the latter being gorgeously ambient and sung in Italian). From the opener (and first single), the mournful “Without A Song”, I was spellbound, if somewhat confused! Noah’s performance style is, for want of a better phrase, old fashioned. Not that he is dated, watching Noah simply felt like watching someone from another time. Like watching lost but found footage on YouTube of a great singer in their heyday! Translation – your mum would probably love him! That said, there’s enough that’s current and accessible about Noah for him to penetrate a modern market. His adaptable style means no song sounds the same. On the night we were given a full range of styles – from overproduced ambient music to a live (and equally young and beautiful) string quartet. A technical fault meant that we had the good fortune to hear Noah close the show on his own, live and unplugged – as he sang the first line of Amazing Grace a cappella, I finally felt like I heard Noah’s true voice, stripped of any classical arrangement and laid bare, how the Julliard panel must have heard his voice when auditioning him for his scholarship.
In short, Noah is one to watch – even if just to say you were there at the beginning. His album is set to be the soundtrack of many a dinner party over the next year. How much crossover appeal he has remains to be seen, but Noah Stewart has great potential to become more than just the housewife’s current choice but to be one of the great opera stars of our time.