Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Remembering Jerry Hadley

Tenor Jerry Hadley would have turned 57 years old today. But, two years ago Hadley took his own life after battling severe depression following some financial difficulties, troubled personal relationships and professional setbacks. His death ended a career that not only took him all over the world, but also brought him into many of our living rooms.

Hadley was born in Princeton, Illinois, and attended Bradley University in Peoria. He earned his masters degree in voice at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, although he really wanted to be a conductor. After studying in Illinois, Hadley taught for two years at the University of Connecticut at Storrs and sang various roles in regional companies. Then, he was snatched up by Beverly Sills, who had heard him in the National Opera Institute auditions in 1978. Sills, who some say loved to discover young talent, offered him a New York City Opera contract on the spot.

Hadley’s debut with City Opera was as Arturo in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in 1979— although, as he later recounted, the first performance was a comedy of errors. During his entrance, he not only caught a chair on his dangling sword and dragged it across the stage, but he somehow managed to set his hat on fire. Those mishaps were no omen of the career that was to come, however. In short order, he was appearing at the Vienna State Opera, La Scala in Milan, and Covent Garden in London.

If it can be said that Hadley's career started by the hands of Beverly Sills, then it can also be pointed out that his stylistic knowledge came by the nurturing hands of Dame Joan Sutherland and her conductor husband, Richard Bonynge. The famed duo became mentors to Hadley and made recordings with him as well, including a program of solo tenor arias, “The Age of Bel Canto,” with Mr. Bonynge conducting.

His Met debut as Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon came unplanned in 1987 when the originally scheduled tenor and the replacement both became ill and pulled out. But, Hadley's appearances at the Met kept coming - totaling some 124 performances in all: Ferrando in Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte, Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress and the title role in a premiere of John Harbison’s Great Gatsby were only some of the most notable roles. Gatsby's mixed reception was a particular disappointment to Jerry Hadley, whose earnest portrayal was faulted for lacking the vocal charisma that some say the role required. Still, he was devoted to the opera. His final Met performance was as Gatsby in a 2002 revival.

My first memory of hearing Jerry Hadley was in the living room of my apartment in college. It was a recording of him singing the title role on the Grammy winning recording of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, with Bernstein conducting. I've loved the show ever since and I can't help but think that Jerry Hadley's lyric tenor, which was well suited to the character of Candide, had something to do with it.

Whether it was Rake’s Progress, Great Gatsby, or Candide, there was something about his voice that lent itself well to the contemporary works. The NY Times said upon his passing:
"There was something distinctively American about the directness and brash energy that Mr. Hadley brought to his work at its best."
What a career. You know we train, we work and we cultivate a career with help from voice teachers, coaches, company administration, agents, managers and a slew of other advisers that we pick up along the way. But, I can't help but wonder: why are we never taught what to do when the applause stops.

An idea - we must come together as a community and reach out to singers and artists who, either by choice or not, no longer practice their craft. They cannot be forgotten. No one deserves to be forgotten because we are all members of the human family and deserve to live long fruitful lives - with, or without the applause.

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