Thursday, July 12, 2007

Jerry Hadley

I haven't been able to stop thinking about Jerry Hadley and his suicide attempt. There are all sorts of complicated questions that run through my mind.

First of all, as a person who thinks of listening to opera (and even writing operas) as a way of "safely" working out emotional situations that people in real life don't usually ponder in public, I can appreciate the extremes of emotions that opera singers, particular great ones like Jerry Hadley, have to understand, as well as bring to life, night after night. When Jerry Hadley sang, it was real. He had a beautiful voice and great dramatic understanding, and he was a great musician.

I became fascinated by him when I heard him sing the emotionally-complicated role of Jimmy Mahoney in Kurt Weill's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, and was amazed to learn that he grew up on a farm in rural Illinois, and went to school in Illinois. Since I know that he was close with people I know and work with, he is kind of like a neighbor, which makes this whole situation even harder to process.

Then there is the suicide question--a question that is really the largest of taboo questions. A failed suicide attempt is riddled with confusion. Hadley is now on life support with serious brain damage, and is not expected to live. We can talk about his singing career in the past tense, but we don't have the chance to put his life into perspective. Nobody does. I feel for his family and for his close friends, and for all the people who knew him and worked with him.

There are people who will hear him for the first time, people who are new to opera but who read the news on line, perhaps, now that he can no longer sing. And they will be moved. In a way I wish the media-driven world could be arranged in such a way that people who have influence would use this fantastic technology of seemingly-unlimited musical access to point the way to the recorded work of singers who might be a little past their vocal prime, but are still complicated artistic human beings with the same emotional needs that they had when they were actively performing. When the applause is over all of us, whether we are great opera singers or not, need some kind of emotional cushion to help us move on with our lives.

It must be hard to be a person with a natural gift and a brilliant career that existed in the (not so recent) past. Instrumentalists sometimes have to deal with the problem due to injury or Illness, but a singer's voice is an instrument with a finite lifespan. Some singers, like Domingo, devote their energies to conducting. Some go into musical administration (like Sills) or composition (like Viardot) or teaching. Some are happy and fulfilled, and some are not.

Musicians like Jerry Hadley are a sensitive lot, and we can't afford to lose anyone else due to whatever factors the musical market might present, like the value of youth over experience for tenor roles, the necessity to pander to audiences with pop music, or simply the huge number of excellent musicians serving a listening public that is not as large and as supportive as it should be in proportion to the population.

Please read what Frank Thompson, Richard Slade, Dick Strawser, and Daniel Gundlach have to say about Jerry Hadley.

16 comments:

Basso said...

I have been deeply disturbed by the news about Jerry. I sung with him at Covent Garden in the 90's many times - in Boheme and Hoffmann - and value him as a friend collegue and artist. I pass on all the best wishes of his many friends here in the UK to his friends and family in the USA.

Caroline said...

I am so saddened by this news. I first heard Jerry Hadley sing in I believe 1979, we performed the 'Psalmus Hungaricus' at my college and he came to sing the solo part at the invitation of our music director who had known him at U Ill. His voice was magical, full and easy and shining. He taught voice at our music dept in 1979-80 and I have followed his career off and on since then because we 'knew him when'. It is very sad how little respect people like him get once they are not 'flavor of the month' anymore. I am sorry that he has ended his life in such despair, and I wish his family well.

Elaine Fine said...

Schubert and Muller understood:

Drei Sonnen sah ich am Himmel steh'n,
Hab' lang und fest sie angeseh'n;
Und sie auch standen da so stier,
Als wollten sie nicht weg von mir.

Ach, meine Sonnen seid ihr nicht!
Schaut Andern doch ins Angesicht!
Ja, neulich hatt' ich auch wohl drei;
Nun sind hinab die besten zwei.

Ging nur die dritt' erst hinterdrein!
Im Dunkeln wird mir wohler sein.

I saw three suns in the sky,
I stared at them long and hard;
And they, too, stood staring
As if unwilling to leave me.

Ah, but you are not my suns!
Stare at others in the face, then:
Until recently I, too, had three;
Now the best two are gone.

But let the third one go, too!
In the darkness I will fare better.

Anonymous said...

As a young budding tenor at New York City Opera, at the Vienna State Opera and the San Francisco Opera, I looked up to Jerry, as a big brother of sorts. At City Opera, I covered Jerry in Faust, which later became one of my most successful roles. I learned a great deal watching Jerry in rehearsals and in performance. Later in Vienna,Our wives were pregnant at the same time some 19 years ago. When Jerry had to fly back to America for the baby's delivery, the Staatsoper asked him who would take his place in the performances of La Traviata that were scheduled. My dear friend said, "You have Richard Burke right here, you don't need anyone else. He will do a great job for you." His suggestion led to a chance and then more important roles for me came at the Staatsoper and later in other theaters. From time to time our paths crossed again, in San Francisco, Dallas and other places. I admire Jerry's beautiful voice, his keen intellect and was particularly inspired by his positive spirit. Today I read the shocking news and realize how incredibly vulnerable we are as singers. The financial side of our career is perilous. I pray that God will give his family comfort and that somehow God will allow this wonderful man to return to health. My soul aches for Jerry and his family. I pray for healing.
In Christ's love and service,
Richard Burke

Chris said...

My brother told me about this on the phone and I went numb. As a voice student at IU a few years ago, I took a song literature class in which we had to analyze the career of a favorite singer. I chose Jerry, and as part of my project, I sent an interview email to him, via his agent. I didn't expect to hear back, but I did, just a few days later. He answered all of my questions in detail, gave me great advice on my own singing, and inspired me at a time when I needed it. He even went on to send a few notes of advice to my brother, who now sings in Germany.

I always thought that Jerry's voice, which I've only ever heard in recording, was one of the best in the world. I'm very sad that such a kind, talented man felt so bad about his life.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for such a thoughtul place to mourn Jerry's passing. It's really been cathartic to read other singers' thoughts on Jerry...both those who knew him well and those who admired him from some distance. Suicide is such a thief.

Andrys said...

Thanks for your thoughtful page, which helped when I was trying to understand, to the extent we ever can, how this could happen with someone who was such a positive spirit for everyone else and had so much going for him, basically.

Financial woes can be overcome but, obviously, generalized depression would be much more difficult. His strong acting (especially from an opera singer) probably came from an unusual understanding of how deep an effect our emotions can have on us.

I've long been a fan of his expressive, lyrical singing and was thrilled when he was a soloist with the SF Symphony for the Beethoven 9th with us (I was in the chorus)
and I could listen to him in a closer setting. Later he and Thomas Hampson generously allowed me to videotape his outdoor concert with Thomas Hampson ("Tom and Jerry show") from the first row and also some interactions he had with admirers later after a concert of really beautiful singing and good humor. He was just as he is often described - upbeat, very kind, and made others comfortable, with that great sense of humor.

This was back in 1997, and when I asked him about singing Tony someday in West Side Story (oh, to have that voice sing that role), he said that he couldn't say much but that it was possible this could happen. Something might be in the work. He was hoping too, he said.

At any rate, it's been hard to reconcile what he felt he needed to do at the end, with the memory I have of such positive energy.

Light or not, his voice soared and took us along. I am glad we can hear and see him still, in performance on CDs/DVDs and now on Youtube also and enjoy the beauty he created. That remains, at least.

Anonymous said...

I am a vocal coach. I have not kept up with Jerry, as I perhaps should have. But I think the comment in regard to singing past one's prime is one of which I must take issue. All things being equal, a well trained male voice, with good maintenance should peak between 58 and 63 y.o.a.. The bias in this regard, is more often than not, spawned by a youth oriented society rather than history (I say this as one not between those ages, but younger). Could it be, that this is the same sort of bias that was in play with his "untimely death"?

Elaine Fine said...

From an email message from Frieda Toth:

My heart ached when I heard the news about what was then a suicide "attempt." Maybe people who knew him recently, people who perhaps suffered because of the illness he experienced, were not shocked.

I was in the "kinder corps" of the Lake George Opera Festival in upstate New York from when I was 9 to 16. When I was thirteen, Jerry Hadley was in the chorus (!) of The Mikado. He would have been in his mid-twenties. That I remember him out of hundreds of talented singers is remarkable, especially since I always preferred baritones.

Jerry Hadley was a hard worker. Many of the other singers played with the children on rehearsal breaks (in that company they were usually either somewhere in college or enjoying their retirement) but he was studying the score. Not that he was unfriendly, far from it, he was affable, and polite and (this is the memory of a thirteen year old) very handsome.

I remember thinking that he'd make a great Fenton, because his voice was so light. And he was a good actor, so much so that I recall specific bits of stage business from his singing "There Is Nothing Like a Dame" at a benefit.

So I followed his career with vicarious pride. And his life seemed so ... solved. The greatest American tenor, he was frequently called, and his lovely wife was his accompanist. Looks, personality, talent, facility with languages. If his career took a downturn in his fifties, well, whose doesn't?? Even if you are not a singer.

I would have loved opera without him, but knowing Jerry Hadley was a happy part of my youth, and the fact that my toddler daughter often insists on hearing opera is in a small part his success.

If Jerry knew that a middle-aged woman in the country still listened to his recordings and smiled, would he have acted as he did? Probably. The knowledge of his two children didn't stop him.

That a person who produced so much should decide he was irredeemable, not worthy to live, makes the horror of mental illness and of suicide real to me in a way I have never experienced.

Jerry Hadley's death is a great loss to music, even if he never sang another note.

Frieda Toth

Anonymous said...

The death of Jerry Hadley is extremely sad.

He and I had been close friends up until about 7 years ago. It was then that his proclivity to "embroider the truth" became overwhelming. I didn't know where reality left of and his "embroi
dery" [his term] began.

There was a dark side to him; always too many drinks and there were rumors abounding of his frequenting gay nightspots in his latter years. Most of the regulars at Regents in NYC claimed that he was a regular there, but I never witnessed this myself. It's very probable that his double life led to his divorce and contributed to his suicide. No one will ever know.

I just hope that Jerry is now at peace with God.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if a memorial service is being planned? It seems that the combined forces at Lincoln Center should be planning SOMETHING.

Anonymous said...

I was an old friend of Jerry's and had been a young artist with him at Lake George. This was the year he sang an absolutely brilliant Faust as an apprentice. The news of his death and the circumstances surrounding it were extremely distressing. All I have heard regarding a memorial service is that it will be at a church in New York City in mid-September and that it is by invitation only. Jerry himself apparently drew up the guest list.

Elaine Fine said...

Jim Dehls just sent a message to let everyone know that Jerry's memorial is Saturday, Septmeber 15th at 1 PM at St. Malachy's Roman Catholic Church on 239 West 49th
Street in New York.

Anonymous said...

I was sad to hear the news of Mr. Hadleys death.What i also think is sad is when opera houses or companies have no need for these singer that still a lot to offer. They tend to tose them out like an old pair of shoes.

Tom said...

I don't know if anyone is still reading this blog, but I want to say something about Jerry Hadley. My English isn't that good (I'm Belgian) but I'm gonna give it a try :)
I learnt about Jerry Hadley and his sad story by watching some youtube videos of "the Messiah", in which he also participated. I was stunned of what I heard! I participated in a performance of the Messiah myself (in the choir of course) and I didn't like the tenor role (or the way it was sung). But when I looked to the videos featuring Jerry and heard his voice and looked at his way of singing, my interest in the tenor role became bigger and bigger, he was amusing himself with singing that role, something I hadn't seen before. I looked for more videos on Youtube (a magnificent website, by the way) and saw a lot of his recordings (e.g. as candide, with the great Bernstein, in West Side Story, the videos where he performs Mozart's requiem, again with bernstein but also the videos of the Liverpool Oratorio and a lot of other things – it is just too much:-) ) by writing this, I see what a versatile artist he was – and still is, through the recordings he made.
And with every recording I looked at, I became more and more impressed by his voice and by his singing
I’ve seen a lot of footage, but there’s still a lot to see.
By watching those videos, I became more and more interested in the story of his life, not only in the musical way, but also in the human way. I’ve seen some footage of him behind the scenes, and what I remark is, that he is just “a man who likes to sing” and not an opera diva, like a lot of opera singers. That’s what I like about him, he was so humane, and you can see it by his singing too… He tries to touch you, and he often succeeds in it. I really admire him; there isn’t a single day that I don’t think about him. Whether it is musically or emotionally, he is always in my mind, somewhere. I’m really, really, really deeply saddened that I haven’t had the chance of talking to him and of course, by what happened to him. He had such problems; it is such a harsh world, the world of opera… It’s more as three years ago now, and I’m still very quiet when I think of him... I really hope he is in a better place now, and I keep on cherishing his recordings.
He must have been such a great person to meet and to talk with… It’s just so sad…

Tom said...

I don't know if anyone is still reading this blog, but I want to say something about Jerry Hadley. My English isn't that good (I'm Belgian) but I'm gonna give it a try :)
I learnt about Jerry Hadley and his sad story by watching some youtube videos of "the Messiah", in which he also participated. I was stunned of what I heard! I participated in a performance of the Messiah myself (in the choir of course) and I didn't like the tenor role (or the way it was sung). But when I looked to the videos featuring Jerry and heard his voice and looked at his way of singing, my interest in the tenor role became bigger and bigger, he was amusing himself with singing that role, something I hadn't seen before. I looked for more videos on Youtube (a magnificent website, by the way) and saw a lot of his recordings (e.g. as candide, with the great Bernstein, in West Side Story, the videos where he performs Mozart's requiem, again with bernstein but also the videos of the Liverpool Oratorio and a lot of other things – it is just too much:-) ) by writing this, I see what a versatile artist he was – and still is, through the recordings he made.
And with every recording I looked at, I became more and more impressed by his voice and by his singing
I’ve seen a lot of footage, but there’s still a lot to see.
By watching those videos, I became more and more interested in the story of his life, not only in the musical way, but also in the human way. I’ve seen some footage of him behind the scenes, and what I remark is, that he is just “a man who likes to sing” and not an opera diva, like a lot of opera singers. That’s what I like about him, he was so humane, and you can see it by his singing too… He tries to touch you, and he often succeeds in it. I really admire him; there isn’t a single day that I don’t think about him. Whether it is musically or emotionally, he is always in my mind, somewhere. I’m really, really, really deeply saddened that I haven’t had the chance of talking to him and of course, by what happened to him. He had such problems; it is such a harsh world, the world of opera… It’s more as three years ago now, and I’m still very quiet when I think of him... I really hope he is in a better place now, and I keep on cherishing his recordings.
He must have been such a great person to meet and to talk with… It’s just so sad…