Opera Singer Jerry Hadley; Leading Tenor in N.Y., D.C.

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 19, 2007

Jerry Hadley, 55, an operatic tenor who combined a sweet, warm voice with keen dramatic intelligence and a dynamic stage presence, died July 18 at a hospital in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., eight days after shooting himself in the head with an air rifle.

Mr. Hadley had been taken off life support on Monday after it was determined that he had sustained irreparable brain damage when he shot himself July 10. In recent years, he had suffered from financial difficulties and depression.

Mr. Hadley sang with most of the world's leading opera companies -- including the New York City Opera (where he made his professional debut in 1979), the Metropolitan Opera, the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London, the San Francisco Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

He was a special favorite in the Washington area, where he sang the leading tenor roles in Rossini's "Barbiere di Siviglia," Puccini's "La Boheme," Stravinsky's "Rake's Progress," Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin," Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte," and Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" with what is now known as the Washington National Opera.

He was equally at home in lighter material, including selections from musicals, and some of the semi-operatic popular songs associated with Mario Lanza.

Reviewing Mr. Hadley's crossover albums "Golden Days" and "In The Real World" in The Post, then-chief music critic Joseph McLellan suggested that Mr. Hadley might have earned the title of the "Fourth Tenor" and praised what he called "the enormous impact an operatic singing actor can achieve with pop material when he knows the style."

Mr. Hadley was born in Princeton, Ill., on June 16, 1952. He grew up on his family's 600-acre farm in rural Illinois. He enrolled at Bradley University in Peoria, where he studied choral conducting, and then continued his training at the University of Illinois.

While there, he sang an audition for the part of Tamino in Mozart's "Magic Flute." "To show you how stupid I was about things operatic, I didn't even know Tamino was the leading tenor role," he told Opera News. "When the cast list went up, Tamino's name appeared halfway down the list, so I thought, 'This is nice -- I've got a little part and can work my way up.'

"When I found I had the lead, I had a seizure and went to the library and checked out six recordings and several scores -- as if that was going to help!"

After graduating with a master's degree, Mr. Hadley joined the faculty of the University of Connecticut, where he taught vocal literature and foreign-language diction and gave private voice lessons. It was the late Beverly Sills, then artistic director of the New York City Opera, who gave him his first break and engaged him for the company.

"During my seven years with the New York City Opera, I was asked many times to sing parts I felt were inappropriate for my voice, and I never found that saying no was a liability for me," he later remembered. "When my career really began to take off at the end of those seven years, it wasn't because I chose to sing 'Il trovatore' or 'Tosca' or anything that heavy. It was because I continued to sing Mozart, Donizetti and Massenet -- the music I like to sing and am good at."

His first appearance with the Washington Opera led directly to international attention. In 1980, Mr. Hadley appeared as a last-minute substitute in "Barbiere," and the grateful company's directors were impressed enough to invite him to appear at Ronald Reagan's inaugural gala at the Kennedy Center.

There, he was heard by Lorin Maazel, at that time director of the Vienna State Opera. He invited Mr. Hadley to sing his first appearances in Europe.

Later career highlights included singing the title role in Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" on a Deutsche Grammophon recording that was one of the composer-conductor's last projects.

In 1993, he sang in the first performance of Myron Fink's "The Conquistador." At the Met in 1999, he created the role of "The Great Gatsby" in John Harbison's setting of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

On a less distinguished note, he sang in the premiere and in the only recording of Paul McCartney's critically abhorred "Liverpool Oratorio."

Mr. Hadley was known as an exemplary colleague -- friendly, interested and good-humored. Yet in the past few years, he had seemed to be struggling. In 2006, he made the news when he was arrested and charged with drunken driving while sitting in a car on New York's Riverside Drive. The charges were later dropped.

He is survived by two sons, Nathan and Ryan, from a marriage to Cheryll Drake Hadley, which ended in divorce; and a sister.

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