Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.
Sound Bites: Hadleigh Adams
A New Zealand-born baritone makes his artistic home in San Francisco.
by F. Paul Driscoll.
Photograph by Dario Acosta
HADLEIGH ADAMS, who sings the Duke in West Edge Opera’s Powder Her Face this month in Oakland, made the journey from his hometown of Palmerston North, New Zealand, to the Bay Area via studies in Auckland, Melbourne and London. While he was on scholarship at the Guildhall School in London, Adams decided to apply for the Merola Program in San Francisco. “San Francisco Opera appealed to me when I saw a DVD of A Streetcar Named Desire in the University of Auckland music library in 2003. I knew nothing about the company—we are very isolated in New Zealand—but I realized I wanted to be part of a company that could produce something like Streetcar. It was the most absurd plan in the world—I had no money, I was finishing up at Guildhall, and I told myself, ‘I’m going to go to the Merola Program.’ Then I flew to New York for my five-minute audition, and I got in!”
After his term in Merola, Adams spent two seasons as an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera. Tall and striking, with a lean, flexible baritone, Adams is a deft actor whose work in a variety of roles at SFO was remarkable for its economy and intelligence. “I was onstage in seventy-eight performances in my two years there—baritones get lots of stage time in smaller roles, luckily—and I learned a huge amount.” In recent seasons, Adams has been heard at Sydney’s Pinchgut Opera (the title role in Vivaldi’s Bajazet), Opera Omaha (Claudius in Agrippina), Pittsburgh Opera (Mozart’s Guglielmo) and as Zoroastro in Handel’s Orlando at the WhiteBox Art Center in Manhattan, which Adams calls “the most amazing artistic experience of my life.” He started off this summer as Falke in Die Fledermaus at Cincinnati Opera and looks forward to singing Creon, Tiresias and the Messenger in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra, during their U.S. tour in October.
Adams’s list of dream roles is headed by Zurga in Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Billy Budd, Don Giovanni—and Javert in Les Misérables. “I say that last unashamedly—I love it. Les Miz is the first musical I fell in love with, and I could happily sing that every day. The character is so complex, and the music has a grace and a rawness and a viscerality to it—just like a lot of fantastic opera.”