Clay Hilley

Young heldentenor Clay Hilley joins the roster of the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, and the Lyric Opera of Chicago

Die tote Stadt (Paul), Bard Music Festival

“I can imagine Paul will suit [Jonas] Kaufmann’s brooding persona quite well but I’ll be surprised if he surpasses Hilley’s phenomenal singing on Sunday after which the American was cheered to the Gehry-rafters with a real hero’s ovation.

As he had two years ago as Dvorak’s Dimitrij, indefatigable American heldentenor Clay Hilley poured out floods of secure, golden, seemingly effortless tone throughout. One never ever had to nervously hold one’s breath as each soaring forte climax approached.

Having heard brawny tenors bark and bray their ways through Wagner and Strauss for years, I wonder if 2019 might prove a turning point.

Although I only experienced them on the radio, both Stefan Vinke and Andreas Schager this spring made me look forward to rather than dread any Siegfried appearance in the Met’s Ring, while in April Hilley’s Menelaus in Odyssey Opera’s Die Aegyptische Helena gave further evidence that this young singer is another real contender.”— Christopher Corwin at Parterre Box

“Paul’s tessitura lies astonishingly high, but it proved child’s play for American tenor Clay Hilley, who dispatched the long and punishing part with practiced ease. Moreover, he conquered the role without sacrificing tonal beauty or musical intelligence, and he offered a skillfully acted portrait of a man in the grip of his ghosts.”— Bachtrack

Mahler’s Symphony no. 8 (Tenor Soloist/Dr. Marianus), The Chicago Symphony Orchestra (debut)

“Tenor Clay Hilley’s soaring lines set a high standard for the vocal soloists yet to be heard.” — The Chicago Tribune

“But the rich theatricality of the 100-minute Eighth was captured by the clarion voices of sopranos Angela Meade and Leah Crocetto, the brief but exquisite rendering of a meditative passage by Jeanine De Bique, the forceful singing of mezzo-sopranos Michelle DeYoung, Kelley O’Connor and the dramatic heft of tenor Clay Hilley, baritone Paulo Szot and lustrous bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green.” — WTTW News

Fidelio (Florestan), The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (debut)

"Hilley's powerful voice and expressive delivery perfectly complemented soprano Christine Goerke, a true bravura and exciting Leonore, who easily stood out as the star of the performance.”--The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Hilley’s first note showed that he is a Heldentenor poised for international success: It rose from pianissimo to fortissimo and back again with pinpoint control. He projected brilliance and power while taking care of every consonant and vowel. He also engaged the part of Florestan on a psychological level, a startling achievement.”—ArtsATL

Mahler’s Symphony no. 8 (Tenor Soloist/Dr. Marianus), The Madison Symphony

“With so many forces on stage for this work, it can be difficult to strike a sonic balance. At times during the performance, the orchestra drowned out the vocal soloists, but tenor Clay Hilley, bass Morris Robinson, and soprano Emily Birsan shined through. Notably, Clay Hilley had a fantastic moment in part two during Doctor Marianus’ aria, blending well with the orchestra and delivering a strong and impassioned melody.”—The Cap Times

“The eight soloists are excellent: I particularly appreciated the gruff but impressive Pater Profundus of Morris Robinson, and the heldentenor Doctor Marianus of Clay Hilley.”—

Die ägyptische Helena (Menelas), Odyssey Opera

Clay Hilley, as Menelas, was a powerhouse, a heldentenor of apparently indefatigable torque and point; some of his clarion notes may still be bouncing around Jordan Hall’s rafters.”—The Boston Globe

“The star of the performance was tenor Clay Hilley in his Odyssey Opera debut as Menelaus. Hilley demonstrated an impressive dynamic range, singing with ample warmth in the upper range and easily-projecting intimacy in softer moments. His tone blossomed into Strauss’ rich French horn and cello doublings, equally at home in both the aggressive, consonant-heavy, concitato stylings of Strauss’ moments of rage and in the reconciliation of the closing.

…Dramatically he wore each layer of his character’s advancing jealousy and madness on his face, and did everything humanly possible to convey dramatic intent, even successfully engaging in a witty repartee with the chorus late in the first act.

Sitting in the balcony as Hilley implored divine intervention, I felt that I was the object of his entreaties (to which I can at least offer a deferred answer with this paragraph of praise).”— Johannes, at Parterre Box

“The role of Menelas is a taxing one as the tessitura is high, and there is much loud, dramatic declamation. Heldentenor Clay [Hilley] was undaunted, and poured forth billows of glorious sound that truly impressed the audience. He has already [covered] at the Met, and the young artist promises to be a major force in the Wagnerian realm.”— EDGE Media Network

“Menelas is Strauss’ longest and most unforgiving tenor part. Its tessitura is high and relentless, but the singer must also be able to lighten and sweeten the voice for the more lyrical passages. Clay Hilley had the capacity to master both aspects, plus the stamina to maintain that mastery. His voice has power and ping, carrying over Strauss’ loudest outbursts, and convincingly expresses Menelas’ delirium without devolving into ear-splitting hysteria.”—

“In particular, Clay Hilley as Menelaus was a thrill to watch. It is rare that tenors get to sink their teeth into really juicy Strauss roles, and Hilley ran with Menelaus, his strident voice managing to carry above the orchestra even in its loudest moments. His acting was also spot on, and he navigated the dream-like arc of his character with incredible commitment.”—Schmopera

“Tenor Clay Hilley, making his debut with the company as Menelaus, boasted a firm, heroic tenor that fully evoked a heroic figure from the Trojan War and projected his changing conditions of passion, confusion, rage, and determination.”—The Boston Musical Intelligencer

“The role of Menelas is a demanding one, to say the least, and audiences clearly felt Hilley was up to the task with his Wagnerian power”— South Shore Critic

Das Lied von der Erde (Tenor Soloist), The Apollo Orchestra

"Tenor Clay Hilley not only filled in at the last moment for his indisposed colleague....but he did so with heroic vocal strength. Mahler’s writing in the more boisterous tenor songs is often thankless, but Hilley delivered them with panache, especially in the ringing high notes at the ends of stanzas in 'Der Trunkene im Frühling.' "--Washington Classical Review

Dvořák’s Dimitrij (Dimitrij), Bard Summerscape

"As the false Dimitrij tireless stentorian tenor Clay Hilley coped extremely well with the unremittingly high tessitura...he effectively delineated the self-doubt behind the brash impetuousness that leads him to ignore his raging jealous wife to pursue Xenia and then to choose death over deception. Despite the role’s great length and fearsome demands, Hilley sounded at the conclusion as if he could have done it all over again."--Parterre Box

"In the title role, Clay Hilley is asked to perform for three hours straight in music that tests a tenor’s stamina. In this case, the 35-year-old tenor did just that without ever sounding strained. From the beginning of the opera, Hilley was asked to scale the highest tessitura during his duet with Marfa, singing with intensity and beaming over the giant orchestra. Then in his first duet with Marina in Act two, Hilley took a lighter touch as he tried to persuade his wife to become Russian. However, Marina’s defiance immediately brought out Hilley’s forceful tenor that rang through the hall.
The highlight of Hilley’s performance came at the end of Act two and the beginning of Act Three. In his first duet with Xenia, Hilley brought delicacy to his voice as he approached the young girl played by Olga Tolkmit. Each line was connected with suave phrasing and the tone becoming even more impassioned joining with Tolkmit’s to create a rousing conclusion. In his Act three aria “Viděl jsem ji, Xenii jsem zřel,” Hilley’s timbre brightened. He sang with a smooth legato and each time he repeated the words “Xenii,” the voice crescendoed to a forte, illuminating his passion for Xenia.
His subsequent duet with Marina once again showed his forceful timbre as it continued to erupt with anger at his wife.... Hilley’s voice expressed the rage through staccato phrasing and emphasis on the consonants in the text. His high notes were also even more accentuated and took on more heft.
During his Act four duet with Xenia, Hilley immediately went for the fortissimo sound emphasizing his desperation for being with her. The passion in his vocal color grew increasingly as he realized he could lose her. By the end of the end of the opera Hilley’s voice still sounded fresh as he continued to sing with authority. Even as he admitted to being an imposter, Hilley gave his timbre an imposing character, making his sacrifice an even more potent moment in the opera.
...Hilley has something that very few singers have nowadays and that is he can act with his voice and can captivate audiences once he begins.
For opera houses saying there are no dramatic tenors, look no further as Clay Hilley is a tenor on the rise who needs attention."--Operawire

"Singing the title role of Dimitrij, tenor Clay Hilley shows why he deserves to be on the stage of major opera companies. In the punishing role, which is murderously long and physically and emotionally trying, Hilley is extraordinary. He has a large voice, whose dynamics are in complete control. From impassioned whispers to great outcries of pain and joy, he thrills. His performances going forward include the Metropolitan, San Francisco and Dallas Operas. With that cutting heldentenor edge ready for action in the voice, and also a lyric line, Hilley is primed for the future. As Dimitrij he engaged in some of Dvorak’s loveliest melodies."--Berkshire Fine Arts

"Tenor Clay Hilley...communicated Dimitrij's sincerity and sang the beleaguered leader's difficult, high-lying music with musical skill, emotional investment and attractive tone quality. Hilley's Wagnerian potential extends to clear suitability for several Slavic roles."--Opera News

"As the eponymous Dimitrij, tenor Clay Hilley demonstrated a strong and clear tenor sound which appeared to be well suited to the heldentenor fach. His dramatic chops were equally sound and he generated sympathy for the character who, according to this version (playing fast and loose with history as opera often does) is unaware that he is not the son of Ivan the Terrible. Indeed, in this version, he is the son of a peasant who has been raised to believe he is who he claims to be. This makes it easy for us to sympathize with him."--Voce di Meche

"The role is a daunting challenge for a heroic tenor. Clay Hilley brought vocal heft, clarion sound and stamina to the role"--The New York Times

"Tenor Clay Hilley demonstrated an almost unearthly vocal stamina and remarkably consistent dramatic honesty throughout his three-plus hours in the role of Dimitrij"

"Fortunately, though, the immense length of the piece gave the huge voices of the two leading singers time to warm up to impressive vibrance. The muscular, tireless tenor of Clay Hilley perfectly indicated Dimitrij’s fanatical determination"

"To start with, tenor Clay Hilley made a powerful impression as Dimitrij. He caught the Pretender's mix of narcissism and heroic vulnerability, singing with bright tone over the game but sometimes over-enthusiastic Wagnerisms rising from the pit."--Superconductor

Idomeneo (Idomeneo), Landestheater Salzburg

"On the other hand, the tenor Clay Hilley had found his role as an Idomeneo. As a substitute for [an ailing tenor], he had flown from the US four days earlier to take over the part. Hilley...was born with the tenor voice of a royal king."--translated from full review

"The tenor Clay Hilley sacrificed the Christmas holiday in domestic America, in order to jump in as a representation for the still ill-affected Idomeneo.... C. Hilley succeeds very well. Clear and concise the voice, desperate the expression when the father struggles with the cruel fate that makes him step into the biblical footsteps of Abraham."--translated from full review

Pagliacci (Canio), Virginia Opera

"As Canio, Clay Hilley offered abundant lung power...the tenor's ardent phrasing also paid dividends"--Opera News

"Clay Hilley sang Canio, the duped husband, with a dramatic tenor that made his rage plausible"--The Virginian-Pilot

Idomeneo (Idomeneo), Mainfranken Theater Würzburg

"Clay Hilley commands the stage with his physical presence. His powerful tenor combines power and clarity --nobody would ever call into question the leadership of this bear of a man."--translated from the Main Post

"As Idomeneo, with the bloody sacrificial ax as scepter, the tenor Clay Hilley acts vigorously, clearly and full."--translated from full review

"Clay Hilley brings a smooth and long-lasting tenor voice as Idomeneo, that can score with a careful phrasing."--translated from full review

"Clay Hilley, as an Idomeneo, radiates a powerful power, not only physically, but also through his powerful tenor, who is well versed in the part..."--translated from full review

Italianische Nacht, Guest Soloist, Würzburger Philharmonic Orchestra

"The traditional Italian Night of the Philharmonic Orchestra Würzburg unfolded a very special charm - thanks not least to the fabulous American tenor Clay Hilley....Tenor Clay Hilley set a first landmark in Vicenzo Bellini's aria "Meco all'Altar di Venere" ("Norma"), which he developed musically, flexibly and expressively. For Giuseppe Verdi's "Ah si ben mio - Di quella pira", he gave much dramatically and with a devilish gaze, a talent he could summon again in Ruggero Leoncavallo's "Recitar... Vesti la giubba" ("I pagliacci"), when the clown Canio discovers the infidelity of his wife. With evil laughter, Clay Hilley threw himself into the tense situation - living theatrics, which went under the skin. The force of his tenor threatened to blow up the Kaisersaal almost. For the operatic stage, this should precisely fit"--translated from the Main Post (full review)

Götterdämmerung (Siegfried)Union Avenue Opera

"Clay Hilley is a wonderful tenor who plays the role of Siegfried, the warrior who gives the ring to Brünnhilde, which seals their fates together. Hilley looks the role of the powerful fighter, and sings gorgeously."--St. Louis Magazine

"Tenor Clay Hilley returns as Siegfried, once again matching a heroic voice with a convincing character."--KDHX radio

"Clay Hilley sings the role of Siegfried as he did in last year's production of the opera of that name. Again he shows himself a true heldentenor-that heroic tenor that this role demands; his clear, true voice easily fills the hall."--Broadway World Review

"Her Siegfried, Clay Hilley...displayed a clarion tenor that was unfazed by the role’s killer-high tessitura...his voice and presence carried him."--St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"[Lobianco] is complemented by Clay Hilley’s fine performance as Siegfried, especially when the two sing some of the work’s inspired duets. Beyond their magnificent voices each is able to capture the essence of their characters to the benefit of the entire production."--Ladue News

"Clay Hilley had the heroic sound and temperament one longs for in a Siegfried. The power of Hilley's voice was evident in his singing from backstage, when Siegfried magically impersonated another character"--Gerry Kowarski, Two on the Aisle

Aïda (Radamès)Baltimore Concert Opera

"But early in the performance Sunday afternoon at the Engineers Club, there was a pretty strong indication that things were going to be respectable. That's when tenor Clay Hilley, as Radames, delivered a sensitive account of "Celeste Aida," capped with a much appreciated diminuendo on the high B-flat."--The Baltimore Sun

Aïda (Radamès)Opera Southwest

"Clay Hilley as Radamés, Captain of the Guard and secretly in love with Aida, clearly has a set of pipes and it not afraid to show them off, especially in his opening aria, 'Celeste Aida.'"--Albuquerque Journal

Fidelio (Florestan)Madison Opera

"Florestan doesn't even appear until the opening of Act II, but what a critical moment it is. DeMain led the Madison Symphony in an eerie and ominous opening, and Hilley's first sound was like an echo of a wail that groped its way through the blackness of the dungeon before evolving into a desperate ray of sound. For all the great contributions of the principals, that ten-minute stretch remains at the front of one's memory."-- Madison Magazine

"The young tenor Clay Hilley finds a satisfying dramatic arc in Florestan's Act II aria, moving from resignation to near mania as he imagines his wife, there to save him...the opening notes are exciting — the first "Gott" seems to emerge from somewhere beyond and outside of Hilley, an astonishing feat..."-- The Cap Times

"[LoBianco's] counterpart Hilley, on the other hand, is not provided stage time from the opera until act II, so his character has less time to shine - which is a shame because he is a phenomenal talent."--Broadway World


 Siegfried (Siegfried)Union Avenue Opera 

"The most challenging to cast is that of Siegfried himself, but if tenor Clay Hilley approaches his career intelligently, he’ll be playing the young hero for years to come, in houses much larger than this one. It’s a voice with beauty, size and heft, and the high tessitura appeared to be no problem for him." - St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"The opera needs a heroic Siegfried, and Union Avenue had one in [Clay] Hilley. His interpretation encompassed the impetuosity and the inexperience of a young man who does not know the meaning of fear. Siegfried has a lot to sing in this opera--even in the reduced version performed at Union Avenue--but Hilley's singing was as robust and appealing in the final scene as at the start." - Gerry Kowarsky, Two on the Aisle

"Clay Hilley, in the title role, is able to embody both the youthful bravado of young Siegfried as well as his yearning for meaning and fulfillment His voice resounded through the hall, as did that of his maleficent guardian, the dwarf Mime, sung by Marc Schapman." - KDHX radio

"The tenor Clay Hilley has a rich, resonant voice, and he strikes a convincing balance between bravado and naiveté as he struts about in the title role." - The Riverfront Times

"The cast is led by Clay Hilley in the title role. Hilley is every bit a heldentenor--that heroic tenor that this role demands; his clear, true voice easily fills the hall--and he powerfully fills it for much of the three-hour performance." - Broadway World

"Clay Hilley makes a most impressive UAO debut as the title character. He possesses a strong, full tenor that is up to the demanding task of the many pieces he’s asked to sing in the two-and-a-half-hour adaptation." - The Ladue News

Aïda (Radamès)Bob Jones University Opera Association 

"Clay Hilley is commanding as Radames, while also excelling at the introspective side of the character." - The Greenville News


La tragédie de Carmen (Don José)Indianapolis Opera

“Some productions of the original plausibly make Don Jose a tragic hero. In [Indianapolis Opera’s] ” La tragédie de Carmen", tenor Clayton Hilley gave the character vocal intensity and lent considerable ardor for investing him with greater stature.” -The Indianapolis Star

Faust (Faust)Winter Opera St. Louis 

“Tenor Clay Hilley brought a truly wonderful voice to the role, fortunately, garnering his share of ‘bravos.’” - KDHX radio


Vanessa (Anatol)The Opera Institute at Boston University

“Tenor Clay Hilley’s Anatol was magnificently smarmy, a most ingratiating cad with a bright tone and fine control.” - Boston Musical Intelligencer

“The tenor Clay Hilley sang Anatol's strenuous music well; he did convey the shallow vanity that makes Anatol such a fine match for Vanessa." -The Boston Globe

Copyright © 2014, Clay Hilley. All rights reserved.