Tenor Jerry Hadley Dies at Age 55

Classic Arts News   Tenor Jerry Hadley Dies at Age 55
Jerry Hadley, one of America's and the world's leading operatic tenors of the 1980s and '90s, died this morning at St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York of complications from a gunshot wound to the head. He had been in a coma ever since his suicide attempt last week; two days ago he was taken off life support following a review by the hospital's medical ethics committee and the administration of last rites.

Family spokesperson Celia P. Novo said that Hadley passed away at 11:20 a.m. His breathing became labored yesterday afternoon and remained that way through last night, according to The Daily Freeman of Kingston, New York.

"He was never in any pain," she told the paper. "He never regained consciousness, never responded to any stimulus."

A product of the American heartland, Hadley was born in 1952 in the small Illinois town of Manlius, not far from Peoria, and raised on a 600-acre farm nearby; he received his bachelor's degree from Bradley University in that city and a master's in voice from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He began his operatic career with small regional U.S. companies and was recruited to New York City Opera in the late 1970s. During the 1980s and '90s Hadley went on to perform and record lyric and bel canto tenor roles with major opera houses in Europe and the U.S., including the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera (Covent Garden), La Scala, and the Glyndebourne, Aix-en-Provence and Salzburg Festivals.

Considered by a number of critics to be the best Mozart tenor of his generation, Hadley also sang the leading tenor roles of the French Romantic repertoire (Hoffmann, Faust, Werther) and made a specialty of Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. In 1997 Hadley created the title role in Myron Fink's The Conquistador at San Diego Opera, and in 1999, he sang Jay Gatsby in the world premiere of John Harbison's opera The Great Gatsby at the Met. He repeated the latter role when the Met revived the opera in 2002; that was his last appearance at the house.

A frequent recitalist, Hadley is particularly remembered for "The Tom and Jerry Show," a wildly popular (and reportedly very funny) duo program he performed with baritone Thomas Hampson.

Hadley frequently performed the Broadway and operetta repertoire as well; indeed, two of his most celebrated recordings are the 1988 EMI release of the complete Show Boat (which also featured Teresa Stratas and Frederica von Stade) and Leonard Bernstein's late recording of his own Candide (alongside June Anderson, Adolph Green and Christa Ludwig).

In recent years Hadley's operatic career had fallen off, amid talk in the opera community that he was having vocal difficulties. He did perform symphonic pops concerts, however, and appeared with smaller companies; his most recent operatic engagement was as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly with Opera Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

During the past year Hadley was, unfortunately, more in the news for legal troubles than musical efforts: this past February he was exonerated of all charges stemming from a May 2006 arrest — made while he was sitting in a parked car — for driving while intoxicated.

While that story ultimately ended well, Hadley had been dealing with other problems recently. A statement from the New York State Police regarding his suicide attempt said that the tenor had been having "difficulties in the past few years with financial problems and was in the process of filing for bankruptcy. He has been very depressed and was under a doctor's care for depression and being treated with several medications."

But for many who had known and worked with him, the news that Hadley was despondent enough to attempt suicide came as a shock; anecdotes about him almost invariably mention his warmth, generosity and sense of humor. Typical is this comment from fellow tenor Richard Leech: "Jerry's singing would make you cry, and his jokes would make you laugh uncontrollably. His generous personality would embrace the world around him and always make it a better place."

One commenter on the blog Iron Tongue of Midnight spoke for many of the tenor's admirers: "I saw Jerry Hadley [in a] master class earlier this year that rejuvenated my love of singing and brought many singers in the class to greater depths of emotional connection to their performances. I count it as a turning point in my own studies, and I cannot square that delighted, energetic man with the same person who wanted to die."

Another commenter, this one on the opera blog and webzine Parterre Box, gave what might be the only answer to that conundrum: "Knowing that other people, even [that] the whole world thinks good of you, has nothing to do with the alleviation of depression. Depression is a very solitary thing; it is the glass box we live in that can be seen out of but not into. Knowing intellectually that one is liked or admired has no power to break that box; I wish it had such power ... We all want to retrieve him, wish we could talk to him, but ... depression is not being 'sad.' It is not something one is cheered up from. It is another beast altogether, and a beast that, unfairly, is ridden alone."

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