Thursday, July 12, 2007

Jerry... if we had only known

What a blow yesterday to read of Jerry Hadley's botched-but-probably-soon-to-be-successful suicide attempt. To say that I am crushed and devastated would be an understatement.

Jerry was a friend of mine. A few years ago as he was revamping his repertoire he coached some of his roles with me: Cavaradossi, Faust (Damnation de Faust), Pinkerton. These last two he had done frequently, but at the time Cavaradossi was still new for him. What an honor it was for me to work with him. What was even more amazing to me was his humility and his willingness to take my suggestions and run with them.

Yeah, he was a tortured soul. But he didn't wear it on his sleeve. He was such an affable guy. And frighteningly intelligent. He knew absolutely everything there was to know about the Civil War and he would regale people with it as long as he held the floor. (Kind of the way that I can go on and on about singers and singing if I feel like I have somebody's ear.)

Long before I even met Jerry, there were stories going around in the business (and if I was privy to them, then they were hardly secrets) that in spite of his continuing success (this was in the mid-nineties) that he was dissatisfied and unfulfilled in his life. And there had been such a slew of setbacks for him in recent years. The public ones we know about; the personal ones can only be guessed at by those who didn't know him.

>I could get up on my soapbox and talk about what a cruel business this is; that someone can be on top of the world at one moment and a piece of dog shit on the sidewalk the next. I have had this experience repeatedly myself, albeit on a much lesser level ('s-Hertogenbosch, Stuttgart, Paris and other places as well) and it's no fun. And if one is plagued by perpetual self-doubt, as both Jerry and I were/are, it's not such an easy thing to laugh off.

Someone I was speaking to about this yesterday said: What a selfish thing for him to do. And yes, suicide is often seen as the ultimate narcissistic act. But part of that is because it's just too scary for the survivors to try and get into the head of the person who has done this unspeakable thing. Frankly, there are a lot of people in this business who should be feeling hugely guilty right now for the way they treated him.

I am reminded of Susannah McCorkle, that beautiful jazz singer who also suffered from crippling depression and who, after a particularly public professional slap in the face, committed suicide. I was haunted by her death for months. Those who have not experienced this depth of depression just can't understand what would drive a person to do this. And intelligence and the powers of reasoning are nothing against this torture.

The only way one can do justice to those great artists whose lives end tragically or in suicide is to remember their contribution to our lives, how, putting all demons aside, they managed to bring us joy, sadness, beauty: the whole range of human experience. Life isn't all tragedy; we should remember primarily the happiness Jerry brought, both to his public and to his friends. We need to fight for joy as best we can.

Jerry Hadley the Artist I will remember as one who sang with such taste, musicality, scrupulousness. His operetta recordings are possibly the best we've heard from an American tenor ever. And his performances in the lyric tenor repertoire, Mozart especially, are to be treasured. The guy Jerry Hadley that I am going to remember is beautifully captured in the photo below. Pure joy, in spite of all that other crap: this was the essence of Jerry.

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Blogger Elaine Fine said...

Thank you for writing this post. I know that there are a lot of people (many who didn't have the opportunity to know Jerry Hadley, but know him through his singing) who share your sadness, and it really helps me (and other people, I'm sure) to read what you wrote.

July 12, 2007 11:35 AM  
Anonymous Fragile Industries said...

Your tribute moved me deeply -- thank you for your sensitivity. I did not meet Jerry Hadley, but saw him perform several times, and his artistry and spirit were unforgettable. I was a supernumerary with the SF Opera at the time, and the stories of his abilities were legion -- not only musically, but his warmth and instinct to make comfortable everyone onstage, from principal to lowly super. His jokes were repeated (audibly, they were unprintable) backstage, to much laughter.

I also have experienced deep and chronic depression, and you capture its pain, and the awful need to end that pain. Thank you for your understanding portrait. I feel I've lost a friend I never met.

July 12, 2007 2:26 PM  
Anonymous Susan Spector said...

Thank you for your moving words.

I too am shocked and saddened at this terrible news.

As the second oboist in the MET Orchestra, I performed as part of numerous performances with Jerry Hadley. I'll never forget the self-assuredness and confidence with which he took the stage and sang his roles. He never approached anything with fear or trepidation! I guess that is why this news was all the more surprising and disturbing to me: it made me realize that this person must have been brought REALLY low to have seen no other way out.

However, having suffered from depressive episodes myself, I do know how dark the clouds of depression can be.

I just can't stop thinking about how fun it was to see him create the role of Gatsby in the MET premiere of Harbison's "Great Gatsby". I remember some lovely Mozart singing of Jerry's too in performances at the MET of Cosi Fan Tutte and Zauberflote.

Again, thanks for your tribute. I hope to see others online and in print. Although nothing I have read indicates that recovery is likely at all, I will certainly keep Jerry and his family in my thoughts and prayers.

Susan Spector
MET Orchestra

July 12, 2007 8:44 PM  
Anonymous Amy said...

I've never experience the community feeling blogging can provide. Thanks. I'm a singer though many years since pursing a career in it, but lived and worked in NYC during Jerry's great days there, and was so shocked and saddened at his suicide attempt and death.

A few years ago, I lost a family friend to suicide and have been terribly struck at the burned out space it creates for those left behind. I do pray Jerry's friends and family will be spared a lot of that second thought.

I am so sorry about it all...the depression, the isolation...the loss to the art form...and to so many friends. God go with you, Jerry.

July 17, 2007 1:15 AM  
Blogger AndrewGoesBroadway said...

I made a bitchy remark in one our lessons, Daniel, about Jerry Hadley's singing. It was based on hearsay -- I never heard him live -- and really I was just making casual gossip.

I feel really badly about that comment now. I know Jerry didn't hear me say it, but perhaps all that bitchiness takes its cosmic toll . . .

It is easy to forget that stars are human. Jerry was a huge star and, therefore, invincible in my eyes. He's still a star, but now he's a person, too.

I'm sorry about that stupid comment, Jerry. You were a great singer.

--Andrew T. Gray

July 17, 2007 12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this dignified writing.Many blogs expressed shock, many people have shared about their own journey of depression. I knew Jerry well, albeit for a brief time. All I can say is that it was both a shock, and also completely understandable. I knew him outside of the opera world, so I knew the man better than I knew the singer. His life reminded me of the Rogers & Hammerstein lyric: "This is a man who thinks with his heart; his heart is not always wise. This is a man who stumbles and falls, but this is a man who tries. This is a man you forgive and forgive and protect and love for as long as you live." All that was true. All that has been said about his vibrancy, his energy, his postive attitude was true...but outsiders cannot know how much he struggled against inner demons. And he did. There were many signs, for those who could read them. Jerry made mistakes like every human traveler on the road of life, but anyone in the public eye suffers a price twice as high for their mistakes. It's the cost of the glamour. Jerry was real...his search was for authentic truth. He was aware of his own blinders, most of the time, which is more than you can say about many people. He could be stubborn and stupid. But he was a brilliant, phenomenally brilliant man, a genuine seeker, a student and scholar, a teacher, and a down to earth, available colleague. He told me tales of going out of his way to avoid "diva" behavior and live a normal life. But trying to be normal when you are anything but is a delicate balancing act. To feel to the depths required to bring the veracity of tone to his roles...takes a big big soul. And he had that. And sometimes he did things that were equally foolish in relationships by the same proportion. But in the end, he just couldn't carry the load any more and he put it down in a way that any healthy being would see as ill advised. He wanted to be healthy...but it was one thing that escaped his beautiful mind. May we please learn to treasure our treasures more; to stop pandering to the next idiotic fad. Jerry did some scathing routines about the fads in selling tenors and singers these days. His wit was legendary, and those who knew him can just imagine. I will miss him all the rest of my life.

July 19, 2007 8:52 PM  
Blogger Counterleben said...

Thank you for your kind words. Your tribute to Jerry is the most moving response I have read to this heartbreaking tragedy. I couldn't agree more that this reflects the cruelty of our culture in not treasuring those who have contributed so much to our lives. The only way we can come to grips with this senseless tragedy is by trying to learn something from it. And by treasuring and perpetuating the memory of the beloved friend and artist who saw no other way out.

I was getting ready to run out the door but I have to take a few minutes to wipe the tears from my eyes and collect myself.

Thank you again. I hope many people read what you wrote.

July 21, 2007 9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sadly never got a chance to meet Mr. Hadley.
I very much liked his singing and his vast interpretive skills.
I was hoping he would have gone on to the big ITALIAN roles in the repertoire - CAVARADOSSI, TURIDDU, etc. Alas, it was not to be.
Someone here posted that during his final years of turmoil - that Mr. Hadly was seen frequenting GAY SPOTS.
The marriage tanked and his career was in decline. This man was very sensitive - although he masked it quite well with his wit and wisdom - and he felt very bad that he had devoted most of his life to making music and the "powers that be" were denying him that right.
He felt alone and lonely so obviously felt the need to seek companionship and friendship. Where else could he possibly go ?
OK - the fans but usually fans tend to be in too much awe of these artists and treat more as museum pieces than as "potential friends" so these singers are shoehorned into a very tight box. Add to the fact that Hadley was now in his early 50's and many Males go through a "MID LIFE CRISIS" just as sure as women have "Their Changes of Life". Perhaps these gay guys offered some comfort to Mr. Hadley and I certainly hope so - and for their collective sakes that it was done safely and responsibly.
As for his suicide - how sad that he had to be forever separated from the music he loved best ! Having to say FAREWELL to that which a person LOVES SO MUCH is heartbreaking beyond words.

August 12, 2007 10:53 AM  
Blogger Counterleben said...

I have obviously been away from my blog for a while. I think Jerry could have grown into the bigger repertoire if he had chosen it judiciously. The first thing I worked with him on was Cavaradossi and it suited him well. He did actually perform the role in New Orleans but in those performances, according to the rather snotty obituary in the Independent, "he was considered miscast and in poor vocal shape." His challenge in his final years was settling into a new repertoire and adjusting to his changing voice. Unfortunately I don't think he found either of those things with perfect success.

As for the gay thing, I really have no comment. When I knew Jerry he was dating one of my best friends (a female) and didn't seem to have any issues with his sexual orientation. My friend and I were just talking about him again the other day. This senseless loss is one of the greatest recent tragedies in the business.

August 31, 2007 8:57 AM  
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