Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Melbourne Community Voice Features Hadleigh Adams

A life in tune
Written by Andrew Shaw

One thing you need to know about Hadleigh Adams: he doesn’t appreciate being stereotyped. “I did an article for Express, New Zealand's gay paper, and they referred to me as ‘the queen of opera’. And I said, ‘You know what, that reinforces every negative stereotype about what this community is doing to itself and I really resent it. Take it down now.’ I’m just saying: you should treat me the same as everyone else and if you do differently I will let you know you’ve done so.”

After completing post-graduate music studies in New Zealand, the 23-year-old Kiwi baritone is studying at The Opera School Melbourne, a new, private studio that opened its doors March 2. It takes 20 students annually, by audition only, and offers an intensive, one-year program. In 2009, visiting lecturers include conductor Richard Gill and director Stuart Maunder. Its performance-based program suits Adams, whose aim is “to work as a professional singer at an international level”. As the recipient of the school’s only scholarship, he has the voice, the looks and the drive that could take him to the top in a competitive field. It’s a journey that began when he was 10 years old.

“I’m from a little place in New Zealand called Palmerston North, about 80,000 people, fairly small, rural. My parents had records, and I put one on and the needle hit the exact point of an aria called Vissi d’arte from Tosca by Puccini. It’s the most incredible aria. She’s crying out to God, saying, ‘What have I done wrong?’ At 10 you can’t grasp that. All I heard was this woman who was really, really sad, and it just sounded so intense, raw and passionate. Well, at 10, not those things, but – ‘Wow! Awesome! Cool!’”

Adams talks excitedly about a recent performance of Don Giovanni by the Victorian Opera. Giovanni, a baritone role in a Mozart opera, is a character his young voice could assay right now, he says. Other roles must wait until he matures.

“Verdi’s writing, especially his later stuff, is incredibly epic. You need vocal cords of steel. The youngest Verdi you would see would be round about 35. My voice is rich, it’s mature; it’s got a long way to go, but that’s when a guy’s voice starts to settle down, round about 35, 40. That’s when the colour and the richest of a voice gets in there.”

Adams has tried his hand at modelling, but the mention of a website devoted to “hunky baritones” causes him to jump out of his seat: “Oh my God! No, no, no. OK, first of all I just want to point out that I didn’t know that I was on there, I didn’t know that site existed!”

He shows me the difference between a pop singer’s voice and an opera singer’s – the latter sound nearly blowing my head off with its volume. He doesn’t look like he’s trying to be louder, the sound comes from what he calls “the musculature”. It literally makes me wince, as if I’m sitting in front of a shockwave. But it’s beautiful, too.

Adams has a private project: a performance of the AIDS Quilt Songbook, which he plans for late November this year. He was involved in the NZ premier a couple of years ago: “The energy in the room,” he says dreamily. “The music just hits you between the eyes. It was the proudest moment in my life.”

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