EBONY: I understand what you mean. There are things you like that no one else does and all you can do is to pursue your interests if it makes you happy and forget everybody else.
NS: Exactly! I saw myself on the opera stage. I saw myself there. Other people didn’t get it. That’s fine.
EBONY: You’re bringing up the point that there is no one single definition of “Blackness.” It compasses everything and it can defined whatever way you want.
NS: Absolutely! I remember when I told my mother I wanted to become an opera singer. She said, “What? Well, that’s for old people, that’s not really for young people.” But when I was at Juilliard, I took a break for a year to join to the workforce, which stretched into three years. And I did all sorts of jobs—working as a receptionist at Carnegie Hall, working at Macy’s selling watches, working at the Met Opera gift shop and working as a host in a restaurant. And often I would often sing "Happy Birthday" to the guests, or on occasion I would sing an aria.
And I remember once one of the waiters, who was French, came up to me after I sang the Don José’s "The Flower Song" from [Georges] Bizet’s Carmen for someone. There was some were cheering and people saying I was awesome and she said to me, “Noah, you were so great! Even your French is great, but what are you going to do?” And I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “You can’t sign José because you’re Black!”
And it was like the blood was drained out of me. I said to her, “How could you say that to me?” But I thought if she could feel that way, then I’m sure a lot of people are going feel this way. At first I was angry, but then I became determined to really buckle down to be the best that I could really be in terms of my technique, my language, my style. Because I didn’t anyone to have an excuse. I even lost 70 pounds when I was at Juilliard.
EBONY: Well, now you have a hit a best-selling recording here in the U.S. and the U.K., an international career on the opera stage, and you're constantly in demand. You can say that what that waitress said motivated you.
NS: Oh, it definitely did! When I met Leontyne Price a few years ago, she told me, “Give them hell.” And I did! Those artists had to be tough, and it’s the same today. There’s nothing more intimidating than a Black man in a room, still to this day. Singers who are basses or baritones usually are fathers or villains. But singing a tenor role, we’re lovers, always. And if they’re giving President Obama a hard time every day because they just can’t bear to see a Black man in a position of power, I’m sure it’s the same singing a tenor role in major opera house.
Check out Noah Stewart’s website: www.noahofficial.com.