19 July, 2007

Jerry Hadley, 1952-2007

A friend sent me an email today to let me know that Tenor Jerry Hadley, thought by many to be one of America's most versatile and important opera singers, died yesterday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Hadley had been receiving treatment for depression and was found unconscious in his home on July 10 where it appeared he had shot himself in the head with an air rifle. He was taken to hospital where it was determined that he had sustained severe brain injury. He was taken off life support on Monday and died yesterday. He was just 55 years old.

A tragic end for such a great artist. I am not overly familiar with his voice, having only a couple of his lesser recordings (Mendelssohn's Elijah, and Beethoven's 9th Symphony), but from those I can understand why the tributes to him are pouring in. He made his onstage operatic debut in 1979 as Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor at the New York City opera, while it was under the direction of Beverly Sills. The story of that debut has become famous as the most "catastrophe-laden" on record:
Somehow, the scabbard got itself lodged in the rungs of my chair, and I didn't realize it. So I sat there, singing "M'è noto. Si! M'è noto!" He got up and walked across the stage, and I followed him, dragging my chair with me. Even to the novice audience member, that looked wrong. So a couple of the supers came over and very nicely took the chair off the sword and - I don't know what made me do this, but I glanced up to see how the boss was taking all this, and I couldn't see Beverly anymore. What I could see was this shock of red hair leaning on the front rail of the bow. She was laughing so hard she couldn't sit up!
The link above will take you to Fanfare, where you can read the whole unbelieveable (nevertheless true!) hilarious account.

As a rule, opera singers don't tend to commit suicide. Despite the often cheerless and even downright depressing stories that make up the drama of grand opera, they seem to be some of the most joyous individuals I've ever met. Still, we are all only human and the trials and tribulations of life can seem to be unendurable for even the happiest of us. Farewell Jerry; you will be missed.

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