Jerry Hadley, who was a fine tenor three years ago, is much better today. The evidence heard recently, when he returned as Rodolfo in the Washington Opera's "La Bohe me," was confirmed -- sometimes brilliantly -- Thursday night in a recital at the Barns of Wolf Trap. His "The Rake's Progress" later this season may be another revelation.
Hadley is still quite young and can grow even further in French and German repertoire. But he has an appealing tone, crystal-clear diction in several languages and a compelling sense of the emotions in the words he sings.
He is still essentially an operatic singer and peripherally a recitalist. When the words and music permitted -- notably with Italian texts in Liszt's "Three Sonnets of Petrarch" and two of his three encores -- a small opera was suddenly happening on the stage, with only one singer and no sets or costumes.
But similar effects in four songs of Faure' were out of place. In several songs of Schumann, it worked well for the moment but stretched the traditional style to its limits. His "Widmung" was almost too intense, but sensitive in phrasing and golden in tone. His approach was much more effective in the braggadocio of "Der Hidalgo," which is almost an opera compressed into a few minutes.
The range of emotions in the three Liszt songs was almost ideally suited to his style -- ecstatic, then anguished and (in the third song) contemplative, with some fine soft singing. Four folk-flavored songs of Peter Warlock eased the tension, increased the variety of flavors, and paved the way for two smashing encores: a limpid "Una furtiva lagrima" and a "Core 'ngrato" that could bring tears to your eyes. He ended the encores with a Noel Coward number that indicated he might also do well on Broadway.
His wife, Cheryl Drake Hadley, was a fine pianist and a sensitive accompanist.