Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Tragical History of Jerry Hadley

About a year ago, I bought an opera on DVD: the 1983 Glyndebourne production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" starring Yvonne Kenny, Carol Vaness, Philip Langridge and Jerry Hadley. The production was conducted by Bernard Haitink. Just a week ago I got round to watching it and was greatly impressed by the very high musical and production values of the piece. Twenty-four hours ago I listened more carefully (no skipping!) and recognized a favourite aria of mine from long ago, when I was a very young man, that had featured on an album of Mozart arias by the Welsh soprano, Margaret Price. Imagine my surprise on hearing it sung by a personable young tenor (in the story, Idamante, son of Idomeneo) with a pure and agile voice! Had I remembered the aria wrongly? Impossible. As a great lover of Mozart, I could not have remembered such a beautiful aria wrongly. Had Ms. Price taken the liberty of transposing the aria for soprano? Possible: but more digging would be necessary before any final answer could be deduced. The first thing I did was to look up the biography of the tenor who had brought back past memories of that beautiful aria to me: Jerry Hadley.

Imagine my horror and sadness on discovering that the fifty-five year old American tenor had died in July of this year, after shooting himself in the head with an air gun! He had suffered terrible brain damage and after a couple of days, his life support machine was switched off. He died on July 18, 2007: little more than a month ago! In the very moments that I had been enjoying his beautiful singing, bringing back a cherished memory of long ago, the man's spirit was still fresh in its passing! Traditional ideas about what happens to people who commit suicide are not very encouraging. Personally, I believe that those who take their own lives are probably filled with a sense of confusion and relief immediately following the suicidal act. The unbearable situation they could not get beyond has now been resolved--but what happens next? This is the question that probably creates confusion. No doubt in the end, the suicides like the non suicides must learn the lessons of their life before passing on to new experiences. Finally, the person who takes his or her own life will surely find forgiveness. It is an ending that could, theoretically, befall any of us. If we reach the end of our lives never having known a black despair so great that we could not withstand it, then we have indeed been fortunate! Personally, I believe we should try to appreciate the contingency of our lives and of everything around us when seeking to lessen the tribulation and sorrow we may find in our lives: perhaps in this case, we would not take ourselves and the events of our daily existence quite so seriously. Life is certainly a gift and an adventure; but often it is also a place of frightening despair. Maybe, the best way we can get through times of desperation is by understanding the extent to which everything in life is, at least to some extent, an illusion; failure could be far more useful than success to the growth of some people--and each one of us improves, to some extent, by being touched with despair. Nothing is as serious as it seems: not broken relationships, not financial crises, not failure in our careers--not even death itself.

It seems that life had not been very kind to Hadley since he turned 50. First, there was a divorce from his wife of 26 years in 2000. On his own admission this affected his singing badly (despair he said "goes straight to the throat") and he had appeared rarely since 2004. In the last few years, since 2004, he had suffered long periods of depression and, at the time of his death, was about to file for bankruptcy. As if all this was not enough, he was also drinking heavily and had started doubting his true sexual orientation (often frequenting New Yok gay clubs and bars). This was all a very long way from the golden voiced tenor who in his heyday of the eighties and nineties had sung so beautifully in all the major opera houses of the world. May God have mercy on his soul--and on ours too!


Anonymous cogitoergosum said...

A tragedy indeed!

8:24 AM  
Anonymous zendo said...

The poem "If" comes to mind.

7:41 AM  

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