Before his untimely death, Grammy-winning artist Jerry Hadley was one of the foremost American lyric tenors of his generation, capable of mastering operatic roles by composers are diverse as Mozart, Puccini, Janáček, Stravinsky, and Bernstein. But his versatility also led him to the world of operetta and musical theater, with winning performances in such Broadway classics as Show Boat, Kismet, and Man of La Mancha. And his crossover work even brought him into the world of former Beatle Paul McCartney, whose Liverpool Oratorio featured Hadley at its premiere.
Born in Manlius, Illinois, in 1952, he initially planned to become a conductor but later switched his focus to singing, earning a master’s degree in voice at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he studied with Grace Wilson and James Bailey. For two years he taught at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.
In 1976 he made his professional debut in Così fan tutte at the Lake George Opera. Not long after, he caught the attention of Beverly Sills, and in 1979 he made his New York City Opera debut as Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor. He hadn’t had a full rehearsal, and the event proved a comical beginning to his distinguished career, complete with confusion about who was who on stage and a plumed hat that caught on fire.
Despite its unpropitious start, Hadley’s career took off, and soon he was performing in the top opera houses of the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, La Scala, Covent Garden, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Hamburg State Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, and San Diego Opera, as well as at the Glyndebourne, Aix-en-Provence, and Salzburg festivals.
Among the operas in which he sang are The Barber of Seville, The Elixir of Love, Anna Bolena, La bohème, Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute, La clemenza di Tito, The Tales of Hoffmann, Faust, Werther, Manon, The Rake’s Progress, and Susannah. Joan Sutherland and her husband, Richard Bonynge, took a particular interest in Hadley’s career, and Hadley worked with Bonynge on several occasions. Hadley created the roles of Don Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva in Myron Fink’s opera The Conquistador (San Diego Opera, 1997) and Gatsby in John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby (commissioned by and first performed at the Met, 1999).
His crossover work includes recordings of Kismet (with Samuel Ramey) and Man of La Mancha (with Plácido Domingo); In the Real World; Send in the Clowns: The Ballads of Stephen Sondheim; The World Is Beautiful: Viennese Operetta Arias; and Standing Room Only. Hadley also sang in Bernstein’s Candide, with the composer conducting, and in Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.
In 2000, Hadley performed The Song and the Slogan, a work he had commissioned from Daniel Steven Crafts. Consisting of settings and readings of poems by Carl Sandburg, The Song and the Slogan was later made into an Emmy-winning PBS video.
Hadley died in 2007, apparently of a self-inflicted head wound with an air rifle.