With his boyish charm, boundless energy, and supreme gift for phrasing, American opera singer Jerry Hadley spent his life onstage, spreading his lyric tenor around the globe. Hadley sang in some of the world's leading opera houses, including the Vienna State Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, La Scala in Milan, Italy, and London's Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. A three-time Grammy winner, Hadley stayed in high demand with the music industry, recording Bernstein, Mozart, and Verdi. According to the Daily Telegraph, Hadley—during his heyday—was called "one of the great white hopes of the post-Pavarotti generation of tenors." Hadley hit his prime in the late 1980s and early '90s but by the mid-2000s saw his engagements drop off. He died in 2007, at age 55, of an apparent suicide.
Over the course of Hadley's career, critics noted that he suffered from inconsistency in his singing, though when he was on, he was magnificent. Jeffrey Huberman of Bradley University, Hadley's alma mater, told NPR that Hadley had a flare for bringing opera to life. "He could change the voice to fit the character," Huberman told NPR. "It was an amazing thing. There are some singers that no matter what part they are playing, you can hear that voice and it's always distinct. And what Jerry could do is he could make that voice fit the character. It was really astonishing stuff."
Hadley was born on June 16, 1952, near Princeton, Illinois. His parents, Jerry and Loretta Seghetti Tilman, operated a 600-acre farm in rural Illinois. Hadley's father hailed from a family of farmers, while his mother's family was filled with music-loving Italians. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Hadley once told an interviewer, "My grandmother played sort of honky-tonk piano, and we all sang."
Influenced by Italian Heritage
Hadley's Italian great-grandfather, who lived into his 90s, enjoyed opera and introduced the youngster to the music. Speaking to the Chronicle's Joshua Kosman, Hadley once discussed the old man. "He was a rabid opera fan, and he listened to the Texaco broadcasts from the Met every Saturday.We all sat around, and he would sing along with all the arias in his high-pitched elderly voice."
Despite his great-grandfather's attempts, Hadley did not grow up with a thorough understanding of opera. "I come from a part of the country where very few people had ever gone to the symphony, and fewer had heard an opera," Hadley once recalled in an interview with New York Times writer Allan Kozinn. While Hadley did not develop an early interest in opera, he did develop an interest in music and taught himself to play guitar. Later, he performed in a band, playing country music at a local truck stop called Beulah's Tap.
Hadley's interest in music carried over to his college days. He attended Bradley University, located close to home in Peoria, Illinois. There, he studied choral conducting and became infatuated with singing after discovering Luciano Pavarotti, which prompted him to sign up for voice lessons. After graduating from Bradley in 1974, Hadley enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for post-graduate work in music.
There, Hadley befriended David Lloyd, then director of the school's opera department. Lloyd went on to become director of the Juilliard American Opera Center. At this point, Hadley had not done much singing, but on a whim, he auditioned for Lloyd and snagged a part. Hadley's first role was playing Tamino in the Mozart opera The Magic Flute.
During Hadley's time at Illinois, Lloyd selected him for a variety of roles, which helped Hadley hone his new-found skill of singing. "I don't think 10 days went by, during the three years I was there, when I didn't sing either an opera performance, a recital or a few songs on a concert program," Hadley told the New York Times during an interview early in his career. In the article, Hadley also acknowledged that he really had no idea what he was doing back then—or how badly he was doing it—and he appreciated that Lloyd saw his potential and let him go out there and learn by making his own mistakes.
In 1976, Hadley was offered a job as an apprentice at the Lake George Opera Festival, held in Saratoga, New York. During the event, he ended up on stage, singing the part of an officer named Ferrando in Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte. After earning his master's degree in voice in 1977, Hadley worked in regional opera houses and taught at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. Hadley's career opened up after soprano Beverly Sills, manager of the New York City Opera, heard Hadley sing at the National Opera Institute auditions in 1978. Impressed with Hadley's skills, she extended him a contract.
Hadley's 1979 debut at the New York City Opera was less than smooth. To start with, he was nervous. Hadley did not get a chance to walk onto the set, try on his costume, or sing with the other principals until performance day. He was happy, though, to be playing the role of Arturo in Donizetti's Lucia de Lammermoor. First, Hadley caught his sword on a chair. Later, during the scene where Hadley's character waits for Lucia to join him for the wedding, he caught his hat plumes on fire after getting too close to a candelabra.
Despite the foibles, Hadley went on to notch several flawless performances and make a name for himself. In 1981, Hadley was invited to sing at Ronald Reagan's inaugural gala at the Kennedy Center. The Vienna State Opera director was in attendance and invited Hadley to sing in Vienna the following year. Afterward, he became a staple on European stages.
For a span of about a dozen years, Hadley was a regular at the Metropolitan Opera. He made his debut there in 1987 singing the role of Des Grieuz in Massenet's Manon. Hadley was not supposed to sing but both the principal and understudy fell ill, so he went on the stage giving an unplanned, yet admirable performance. Hadley's engagements at the Met continued for years to come, with roles as Lensky in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, and Alfredo in La Traviata. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, Hadley split his time between stages in Europe and the United States. Hadley was so popular he had to turn down work. In 1999, he played the title role in the Met's premiere of The Great Gatsby by John Harbison, setting the standard for the role.
For the Record …
Born on June 16, 1952, in Princeton, IL; died July 18, 2007, in Poughkeepsie, NY. Son of Jerry (a farmer) and Loretta Seghetti Tilman. Married Cheryl Drake in 1976 (divorced); two sons: Nathan, Ryan. Education: Bachelor's degree in music, Bradley University, 1974; master's degree in music (voice), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1977.
Made debut at the Lake George Opera Festival, Saratoga, NY, 1976; made professional debut at the New York City Opera, 1979; made European debut at the Vienna Opera House, 1982; spent the 1980s and '90s singing on stages in Europe and the United States, performing at such places as the Metropolitan Opera in New York, La Scala in Milan, Italy, the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London, Hamburg State Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, and the San Diego Opera; played last major role, singing in Madame Butterfly, in Australia, 2007.
Awards: National Opera Institute grantee, 1978; Grammy Award, Best Classical Album, Candide, 1991; Grammy Award, Best Opera Recording, Susannah, 1994; Grammy Award, Best Opera Recording, Jenufa, 2003.
One of Hadley's career highlights included singing the title role in a Deutsche Grammophon recording of Le- onard Bernstein's operetta Candide, which was one of the composer's last projects. The album won a 1991 Grammy for Best Classical Album. Hadley's recording of Susannah won a Grammy for Best Opera Recording in 1994, as did his recording of Jenufa in 2003. Hadley also recorded the musical Show Boat with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.
Among his not-so-noteworthy projects, Hadley sang in the 1991 premiere of Paul McCartney's unsuccessful autobiographical Liverpool Oratio. Hadley quickly revived his career, however, in 1992 as a soloist with the San Francisco Symphony, singing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
Along the way, Hadley married pianist Cheryl Drake Hadley, who often served as his accompanist during recitals. They had two sons, Nathan and Ryan, before divorcing. By the early 2000s, Hadley's career was winding down, though he still appeared in prominent roles now and again. In the spring of 2007, Hadley sang in Madame Butterfly in Australia.
A few months later, on July 10, 2007, Hadley shot himself in the head with an air rifle at his New York home. He was taken to a hospital in Poughkeepsie, where he stayed on life support for several days. He died July 18, 2007. Reports said he suffered from depression, possibly over his divorce, and financial difficulties as engagements dwindled in the past few years.
(With the London Sinfonietta) Show Boat (Cast Highlights), EMI Classics, 1990.
(With the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus) Mozart: Requiem, Telarc, 1990.
(With the London Symphony Orchestra) Bernstein: Candide, Deutsche Grammophon, 1991.
(With the American Theatre Orchestra) Standing Room Only, RCA, 1992.
(With the American Theatre Orchestra and members of the Harvard Glee Club) Jerry Hadley: Golden Days—Tenor Hits from the Golden Age of Operetta, RCA, 1994.
(With the American Theatre Orchestra) In the Real World, RCA, 1994.
(With Orchestre de l'Opera de Lyon) Floyd: Susannah (Complete Opera), Virgin Classics, 1994.
(With Scottish Chamber Orchestra) Mozart: Cosi fan Tutte, Telarc, 1994.
(With the Choeur et Orchestre de l'Opera de Lyon) Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress, Erato, 1995.
(With the English Chamber Orchestra) Jerry Hadley: The Age of Bel Canto, RCA, 1996.
(With the Munich Radio Orchestra) A Song of Naples: Neapolitan Songs, RCA, 1996.
(With the Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden) Jenufa: Complete Opera, Erato, 2002.
(With the Munich Radio Orchestra) The World Is Beautiful: Viennese Operetta Arias, RCA, 2003.
(With the Welsh National Opera Orchestra) Donizetti: Anna Bolena, Decca, 2006.
(With the London Sinfonietta and Ambrosian Chorus) Kern & Hammerstein II: Show Boat, EMI Classics, rereleased, 2006.
Daily Telegraph (London), July 20, 2007, p. 27.
New York Times, July 20, 1986, p. 21; August 14, 1987, p. C5; July 19, 2007, p. B7.
San Francisco Chronicle, July 19, 2007, p. A2.
"Jerry Hadley: Fine Lyric Tenor with a Flexible Voice," London Independent,http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/jerry-hadley-457809.html (June 26, 2008).
"Jerry Hadley, Operatic Tenor, Dies at 55," NPR, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12100749 (June 26, 2008).
"Operatic Tenor Is Brain Damaged," New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/11/arts/music/11cnd-hadley.html?_r=1&oref=slogin (June 10, 2008).
Hadley, Jerry, American tenor; b. Princeton, III., June 12, 1952. He studied music education at Bradley Univ. (B.A., 1974) and voice at the Univ. of 111. (M.A., 1977), where he found a mentor in David Lloyd; then studied with Thomas LoMonaco in N.Y. In 1976 he made his professional operatic debut as Ferrando at the Lake George (N.Y.) Opera Festival. On Sept. 14, 1979, he made his first appearance at the N.Y.C. Opera as Lord Arturo Bucklaw in Lucia de Lammermoor, remaining with the company until 1985; also appeared regularly with the Washington (D.C.) Opera (from 1980). He made his debut at the Vienna State Opera in 1982 as Nemorino, and in 1983 he sang for the first time at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, the Glyndebourne Festival, and the Netherlands Opera in Amsterdam. In 1984 he made his debut at London’s Covent Garden as Fenton and his Carnegie Hall recital debut in N.Y; his Metropolitan Opera debut in N.Y. followed on March 7, 1987, as Massenet’s Des Grieux; he sang there regularly from 1990. In 1991 he sang in the premiere of McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio.In 1994 he was engaged as Tom Rakewell in London and at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, a role he reprised at the Metropolitan Opera in 1997. In 1997 he also created the title role in Myron Fink’s The Conquistador in San Diego. He also toured extensively as a concert artist. In addition to his Mozart and bel canto roles, Hadley has found success as Berlioz’s and Gounod’s Faust, Offenbach’s Hoffmann, Verdi’s Alfredo, and Stravinsky’s Tom Rakewell. His performances in works by Weill, Kern, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bernstein, and Lerner and Lowe have added further luster to his success.
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire