Praised in The New York Times for his “vocal heft, clarion sound and stamina,” heldentenor Clay Hilley has appeared on many international stages in the most demanding operatic repertoire. At age 39 he sang the title role of Wagner’s Siegfried in Stefan Herheim’s new production at Deutsche Oper Berlin, under the baton of Sir Donald Runnicles. He returns in Fall 2021 for debut performances of Siegfried in Götterdämmerung, and for his first complete Ring Cycles as the young hero.
The 2021-2022 season features Clay Hilley in two other prominent debuts: with Dutch National Opera as the title role of Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg in a new production by Nanouk Leopold, which heralds the arrival of the company’s new Music Director, Lorenzo Viotti; and at the Tiroler Festspiele Erl as Siegmund in a new production of Die Walküredirected by KS Brigitte Fassbaender. He sings the title role of Samson et Dalila in a fully-staged presentation at Bob Jones University. A vibrant concert schedule includes Aida Act 3 with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicola Luisotti, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and Siegfried Act 3 with the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra led by Chief Conductor Erik Nielsen.
Highlights of last season include Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano, a concert presentation of Tristan und Isolde (Act 2) with Edward Gardner leading the Orchestra of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, and the role of Phoebus in Schmidt’s Notre Dame at Theatre St. Gallen.
Clay Hilley joined Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2019-20 for performances of Dead Man Walking and to cover Siegfried in Der Ring des Nibelungen. Other engagements that season included the Drum Major in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production by William Kentridge of Wozzeck, and a semi-staged presentation of Die Tote Stadt at Bard SummerFest.
Clay Hilley has performed the title role of Dvořák’s Dimitrij in a new production by Anne Bogart for the Bard Music Festival conducted by Leon Botstein, the title role of Mozart’s Idomeneo both in a new production by Arila Siegert at the Salzburger Landestheater under the baton of Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and at the Theater Würzburg in a production by Stefan Suschke conducted by Enrico Calesso, Radamès in Aida with Opera Southwest and Baltimore Concert Opera, Canio in Pagliacci with Virginia Opera, and Erik in Der fliegende Holländer with Austin Lyric Opera.
Concert experience includes performances of Beethoven’s Fidelio with Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Mahler’s Eighth Symphony with Marin Alsop and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival, with John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and with Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra, as well as Das Lied von der Erde with The Apollo Orchestra of Washington, D.C. Emerging as a world class Straussian tenor, he has sung Menelaus in Die ägyptische Helena with Gil Rose and Odyssey Opera and Gundelfingen in Feuersnot with Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
The tenor received his Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education at the University of Georgia, a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from Georgia State University, a Professional Studies Certificate from the Manhattan School of Music, and a Performer’s Certificate from the Opera Institute at Boston University.
Dead Man Walking (Father Grenville), Lyric Opera of Chicago (debut)
“Clay Hilley contributed a fine characterization as the passive-aggressive prison priest Father Grenville. The young singer possesses a daunting Heldentenor, and his huge voice soared over the massed ensemble in the prayer that closes Act [II]”—Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review
Die tote Stadt (Paul), Bard Music Festival
“For the remarkably high-lying, famously testing part of Paul, Bard fielded tenor Clay Hilley, in a very impressive role debut. The Georgia native has a striking résumé of dramatic parts, including a strong Dimitrij in Dvořák’s opera at Bard two summers ago. Hilley sustained Korngold’s punishing tessitura admirably, keeping the line musical and dynamically flexible, earning vociferous bravos.”—David Shengold, Opera News. Print edition, November 2019, page 48.
“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
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
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
“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.”—Bachtrack.com
Dvořák’s Dimitrij (Dimitrij), Bard Summerscape
"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
"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
"Clay Hilley sang Canio, the duped husband, with a dramatic tenor that made his rage plausible"--The Virginian-Pilot
Götterdämmerung (Siegfried), Union Avenue Opera
"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
"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
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 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