S opera veteran Timothy Noble steps into his latest role, one might say he wields a killer voice.

Strong enough to slay 450 people, in fact.

The 72-year-old former performer with the Metropolitan Opera and nearly every other major opera venue worldwide will play the biblical prophet Elijah in Felix Mendelssohn’s two-hour oratorio, “Elijah,” to be presented April 1 by the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic with help from the Philharmonic Chorus and other soloists.

Elijah is the spiritual dynamo whose godly petition and power later left about 450 of prophets of Baal dead on Mount Carmel in the classic Old Testament face-off over whose god was greater.

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“There’s definitely a lot of fire and brimstone,” said Noble, speaking by phone from Bloomington, where he serves as a distinguished professor of voice at Indiana University.

“So I approach it very dramatically. That’s the only way I can do this particular music honestly.”

It’s also the only way Philharmonic music director David Bowden would want him to approach it.

Bowden gushes over Noble’s dramatic interpretation, which is one of the reasons the maestro pursued Noble for nearly a decade to perform this work with the orchestra.

Bowden finally was able to land Noble by having former students such as Austin native Michael Brandeburg and Columbus native and IU faculty cohort Jane Dutton convince him to come out of his stage pseudo-retirement.

Noble acknowledged that the huge work is so challenging that “I did not want to come out after an international career and sound like any Joe Blow.”

Bowden put Noble’s talent into perspective quite succinctly.

“He is one of the greatest bass baritones of the 20th century,” the Philharmonic conductor said.

When former Indiana men’s basketball coach Bob Knight compared Noble to the late Enrico Caruso — considered the greatest operatic tenor to have ever lived — a number of years ago, “that certainly was not out of the nomenclature,” Bowden said.

Noble and Knight became friends when Knight, a military history buff, was telling his coaching staff about the Battle of Little Big Horn at a Bloomington restaurant. When Noble, who has an interest in history, heard inaccuracies, he approached Knight’s table to tell him so.

There were no chairs thrown in the aftermath. Besides, Noble said, “I can take care of myself.”

The singer laughed over being called a star during the apex of his opera career, when he performed more than 50 leading roles in prestigious opera houses around the globe. He also sang as baritone soloist with the London Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra and Cincinnati Symphony and has appeared at such venues as Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and Ravinia Festival in Chicago.

“Some people love to bask in their glory,” Noble said. “I took a limousine once to the Metropolitan Opera. It cost me a lot of money. And when I got out out, no one was there to greet me.”

Then he burst out laughing on the other end of the phone with a roar as big as his vocal gift. The laughter is vintage Noble, who often directs his humor at himself.

“I’m still a small-town guy from Peru, Indiana,” he said. “We all put our pants on the same way.”

He’s glad his IU role gives him a stability that full-time performing never quite did, requiring him to live in airports and hotels for six weeks at a stretch.

“My schedule now allows me more opportunity to stay in my house,” said Noble, who lives with wife Donna in the same Bloomington neighborhood as Bowden. “What I got tired of was the road, not the work. It was a matter of not being home.”

Being home has allowed him to become a fixture since 2001 at IU basketball games at Assembly Hall, where he is known by many fans simply as The National Anthem Guy. His rendition is as powerful and vigorous as a two-handed slam, often eliciting enthusiastic high-fives from members of IU’s Big Red Basketball Band.

At one point a few years ago, he worried that his voice was losing a bit of its edge and wondered if he still should be singing. Then, two years ago, he saw 89-year-old Tony Bennett in concert — and saw that his perspective was all wrong.

“I thought, ‘Holy cow — he’s 89. I’m 70. I knew I had to give it (insecurity) a rest. And it motivated me.”

Last week, Noble spent his spring break teaching at the University of Toronto, the Glenn Gould School in Toronto and the Canadian Opera Company.

Plus, he uses such trips to recruit for IU’s highly ranked Jacobs School of Music. He lured two Canadians last year and has few more coming next school year.

“Oh, I can recruit,” Noble said. “Mine just aren’t 6-foot-8.”

A musical, biblical epic

Who: Soloists Timothy Noble, Rachel Mercer Holland, Hannah Penn and Justin Stolz with the Philharmonic Chorus performing the Felix Mendelssohn work, “Elijah” with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic.

When: 7:30 p.m. April 1.

Where: Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus.

Tickets: $5 to $50, available at 812-376-2638 or thecip.org.

Information: 812-376-2638 or thecip.org.

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.