Jerry Hadley has looked out across the footlights of some of the world's great opera stages, including the Metropolitan and New York City opera companies.
But he says some of his most fulfilling musical experiences have come in recitals and smaller concerts, like the one he and Frederica von Stade will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Crafton-Preyer Theatre.
"I love the personal contact with the audience," Hadley said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Wilton, Conn. "One of the biggest problems with the big opera houses is you can't see the faces of the audience. I find that in recitals when I do see the faces in front of me it's a much better experience.
"There's an energy that passes between the performer and the audience that's like electricity. Some of my greatest performances have come not on the opera stage but in situations such as recitals.''
THE DUO'S recital will open the 1991-92 Kansas University Concert Series. Originally scheduled for Hoch Auditorium, the concert was moved to Crafton-Preyer after the June 15 fire. Hadley, a tenor, and von Stade, a mezzo soprano, performed together on a recent recording of "Show Boat," the operetta by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, and in a Public Broadcasting Service telecast called "Flicka and Friends.''
The pair will sing selections from "Show Boat" in the final portion of their concert. (Ms. von Stade turned down a request for an interview.)
Hadley is full of praise for von Stade, who is now in her third decade of her career in opera and specializes in such roles as Cherubino in Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro.'' He said they planned to rehearse for about two weeks before their Lawrence appearance, when their busy schedules briefly converge.
"I DIDN'T know her personally until "Show Boat,''' Hadley said. "She's really special in this business. She can walk into a room radiating like white lightning. And I've never seen Flicka display the outrageous behavior that I'm used to seeing in opera. She's a joy to work with.''
In addition to "Show Boat," the recital's planned program includes pieces from "Don Giovanni," "The Elixir of Love," "The Barber of Seville" and "Werther.''
"This is a unique recital," Hadley said. "Normally, when I do a solo recital I don't do many arias. There's an incredible variety of non-operatic material, and in recitals you're taking opera music out of context. But in this case, in a joint recital with Flicka and me, we felt that we could present in Lawrence a wide range of music theater.
"WE HAVE the opportunity to present or create the ambiance of opera without all the trappings. In some ways this is challenging, because when you're not relying on trappings you have to go deep into the music.''
Hadley himself has built a strong career in music theater, serving as a principal at the New York City Opera and then making his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1989 with "Eugene Onegin.'' He also received a Grammy Award that year for a recording of Verdi's "Requiem" under the direction of Robert Shaw.
He grew up on a farm near Peoria, Ill., and his first exposures to opera came from his Italian grandfather and live Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on the Texaco network. He went on to study music at the University of Illinois.
"I HEARD my first opera broadcast in my great-grandfather's company," Hadley said. "It planted in my head the idea of opera, but I didn't set out to do opera. The idea evolved when I got to college, when I found out I could do it. Then a series of doors opened, not at my behest, and I went through those doors.''
Those doors almost shut six years ago, when he began to experience fierce pain in his mouth when he sang. As it turned out, he had a displaced jaw disk, a rare condition that was exacerbated by his singing career.
"It took a lot of doctors to figure out what was wrong, but once they diagnosed it, it was easy to remedy," Hadley said. "I spent six months wearing a special retainer, because everything didn't fit right. I'm fine now, but it was scary."
WHEN HE was interviewed, Hadley had just returned home after a rehearsal of "The Magic Flute'' at the Met. As it turns out, some of Hadley's favorite roles lay in Mozart's operas.
"With a Mozart opera, every time I perform it I find a new twist. All of the sudden there's a spontaneous moment of revelation that's so incredible. He was capable of bringing together this highly structured form and an element of passion that makes the music magical.''
But Hadley has also led forays into the world of musical theater, including a current recording of Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" that is already a hit among connoisseurs. Some of Bernstein's songs from "West Side Story" and "Wonderful Town" will be included in the Saturday recital.
HADLEY WORKED with Bernstein on the album as well as other projects, and his voice nearly breaks when he remembers the composer-conductor.
"After working with him over the course of four or five years, it's impossible to appreciate music in the same way," Hadley said of Bernstein. "He was such a visible presence for so many years in ways that were so inventive. I think his legacy, his greatest influence, came from his courage to put away self-importance, doubt and fear. He sometime failed abysmally, but he had the courage to try, something that's so lacking in the world of music, which because of the money goes along in its comfortable, safe way.
"His love of music was incredibly broad, with jazz, pop, rock 'n' roll Lenny never put down a piece of music because of what it was. He would say something wasn't good on its own terms, but he never rejected any music. . . I grieved after he died, but it's been a year now and I'm still sad.''
HADLEY LIVES in a new home in Wilton with his wife, Cheryll Drake Hadley, and his family. Cheryll Hadley will be on hand as the accompanist Saturday night it so happens she's an accomplished pianist and opera accompanist.
"It's high acclaim for an accompanist if the reviews the next day say the concert was `ably accompanied,'' Cheryll Hadley said.