Jerry Hadley American tenor 1952 – 2007

Jerry Hadley American tenor 1952 - 2007

Jerry Hadley (June 16, 1952 – July 18, 2007) was an American operatic tenor. He received three Grammy awards for his vocal performances in the recordings of Jenůfa (2004 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording), Susannah (1995 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording), and Candide (1992 Grammy Award for Best Classical Album). Hadley was a leading American tenor for nearly two decades. He was a protégé of soprano Dame Joan Sutherland and her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge. A versatile singer, Hadley was equally at home in opera and operetta and on Broadway.

Jerry Hadley American tenor 1952 – 2007

Early life and training

Hadley was born and raised in Manlius, Illinois, of Italian and English parents. He attended Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. Where he was a member of the Delta Nu chapter of Phi Mu Alpha, a men’s music fraternity. Hadley first studied to become a conductor, but after four years turned to singing. He studied voice under Dr. John Davis while at Bradley, ultimately earning his master’s degree in voice at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. At Illinois he studied voice with Grace Wilson and James Bailey, and coached with pianists John Wustman and Eric Dalheim. He starred in many School of Music opera productions, including Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Nemorino in Donizetti’s Elixir of Love, Alfred in Johann Strauss Jr’s Die Fledermaus. Tom Rakewell in The Rake’s Progress by Stravinsky.


Hadley’s early years as a professional singer were spent in regional opera houses in the U.S. He was then snapped up by Beverly Sills, who had heard him in the National Opera Institute auditions in 1978 and offered him a New York City Opera contract on the spot. He also commenced vocal training in New York with vocal teacher Thomas Lo Monaco. Hadley became a regular member of the roster of the New York City Opera after his debut there as Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor in 1979.

In 1982 he made his first appearance at the Vienna State Opera as Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. He frequently performed at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. Deutsche Oper Berlin, Hamburg State Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera. Glyndebourne, Aix-en-Provence and Salzburg festivals.

Hadley was known for his interpretations of lyric tenor opera roles as well as his performances of Broadway musicals, operetta, and popular music. One of his best-selling recordings was the EMI three-CD recording of the complete score of Show Boat, conducted by John McGlinn. Hadley sang the role of Gaylord Ravenal.


Hadley sang the tenor roles of the bel canto repertory (Il Barbiere di Siviglia, L’elisir d’amore, Anna Bolena, La bohème, Lucia di Lammermoor). As well as Mozart (Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflöte, La clemenza di Tito). The French Romantics (Les contes d’Hoffmann, Faust, Werther, Manon). He also sang the tenor soloist in Handel’s Messiah and Verdi’s Requiem. He sang the role of Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress for much of his career, first performing it while a graduate student at the University of Illinois.

In the early 1990s

In the early 1990s, Hadley appeared on The Long Goodbye, an album of reinterpretations of the music of Procol Harum featuring past and present members of the band, augmented by orchestra and guest vocalists; Hadley’s contribution was a stirring vocal interpretation of the classic, “Grand Hotel”.

In 1996, Jerry Hadley commissioned the composer Daniel Steven Crafts to create music for selected poems by Carl Sandburg.The work, The Song and The Slogan, premiered in 2000 at the University of Illinois, and was made into a PBS video, which won an Emmy Award for Best Musical Performance by the Mid-America Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Among the performers in the premiere were University professors and musicians with whom he had worked while a student, including pianist Eric Dalheim, conductor Paul Vermel,  and cellist Barbara Hedlund.

Hadley created the role of Don Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva, in Myron Fink’s 1997 opera, The Conquistador,  and the title role in John Harbison’s 1999 The Great Gatsby, based on the novel of the same name. Outside opera, he created the tenor part in Sir Paul McCartney’s 1991 Liverpool Oratorio.

Salzburg Festival

At the 1998 Salzburg Festival, Hadley sang the lead tenor role in Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, a staging that was filmed and commercially released. But Hadley made many recordings. He recorded under Richard Bonynge’s baton in the bel canto genre, and Leonard Bernstein selected him to sing the title role in a complete 1989 recording of his operetta Candide, led by the composer a year before he died; London concerts of the operetta given that year with the same principal singers, including Hadley, were separately televised and commercially released.

As a recitalist, Hadley gave concerts in Europe and the United States, and his performances regularly featured American music. He performed frequently with the American conductor-pianist Alexander Frey, and at the time of Hadley’s death they were planning to record two new solo compact discs of song repertoire of Austria and Hollywood. Hadley also performed frequently with pianist Eric Dalheim.

Divorce and withdrawal from the stage

Following his divorce from pianist Cheryll Drake Hadley in 2002, Hadley in large part abandoned singing and the stage for five years. A few months before his death, he had begun a major comeback, with the public and critics noting a renewed freshness, control and vibrancy to his voice. His last operatic performances were in May 2007 in Brisbane, Australia, as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly with Opera Queensland. Following those performances, critics hailed Hadley’s voice and singing for having a new-found sense of youth and clarity, coupled with a perfect technique and sure dramatic sense.

In an interview with The Courier-Mail, Hadley commented on his return to the stage after his long absence since his divorce: “A wounded bird cannot sing. It was tough. It was emotionally distressing and it goes straight to the throat. So I took some time off and sat in the quiet for a while. I never really understood how inseparable was the journey of the spirit and the journey of singing and making music. For the first time in my life I couldn’t see a way forward. But I came out on the other side of it with a deeper appreciation of what a great gift and great opportunities God has given me.”


On July 10, 2007, Hadley suffered brain damage after apparently shooting himself in the head with an air rifle at his home in Clinton Corners, New York.  His fiancée heard the shot and called 911.  He was taken to St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York, had CAT scans as well as X-rays that showed severe brain injury, and was put on life support.  On July 16 he was taken off life support,  and he died two days later.

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