The Sydney-born rising star baritone carries all before him with performances of Handel and Keiser.

Australian baritone Morgan Pearse has won the 7th Annual International Cesti Voice Competition for Baroque Opera in the Austrian town of Innsbruck. The second prize and the audience prize went to Austrian mezzo-soprano Sophie Rennert, while American countertenor Eric Jurenas came in third place.

Sophie Rennert, Eric Jurenas, Morgan Pearse

Pearse, who trained as a studio artist at Houston Grand Opera and graduated from the Royal College of Music’s International Opera School carried of the first prize with an aria from Handel’s Rinaldo and an aria from Reinhard Keiser’s little-known opera Octavia. “Each year the Cesti Competition selects a core group of composers focussed on a particular part of the vast and rich pool that exists in the Baroque Opera genre. This time it was generally composers writing in Italian with Cavalli, Monteverdi, Vivaldi and Handel most popular,” Pearse told Limelight. “The first round and semi final rounds are entirely up to you but in the finals there was a prescribed list of arias which each voicetype had to select from. One of the pieces for the final also had to be from the opera which the Festival is performing next year; Kaiser’s Octavia. So, I chose my aria from Octavia ‘Ruhig sein’ and then decided what would best showcase other elements of my voice from the prescribed list. Hande’s ‘Sibilar gli angui d’aletto’ from Rinaldo was the perfect contrast in style!”

Morgan Pearse was born in Sydney and in recent years has been seen around Australia as Apollo in the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s tour of L’Orfeo, as well as in Purcell’s Dioclesian with Pinchgut Opera and singing the key role of Underground Man in the first production of Sydney Chamber Opera’s Notes from Underground back in 2011. Since moving to the UK, he has performed at numerous international opera houses, such as the English National Opera, as well as at festivals such as the Verbier Festival and the London Handel Festival. He has also been the winner of several competitions, including the Royal Overseas League Music Competition, the Schumann Competition and the John Warner Recital Competition.

Pearse in Owen Wingrave for Sydney Chamber Opera

Of his performance playing the lead in Sydney Chamber Opera’s Owen Wingrave in 2013, Limelight wrote: “Pearse has a voice you’d be lucky to catch in the Sydney Opera House, even throughout the whole range and with an effortless quality at the top. His portrayal of the pro-pacifist captures the awkwardness of a young man coming to terms with an alien point of view and, a few physical ticks aside, he is highly sympathetic.”

“I was honestly shocked at winning,” Pearse told Limelight. “The pool of talent in baroque singing in this competition was incredibly strong. I’ve also always thought that as a baritone singing early music in particular, you tend to have less flashy and impressive material available to sing. Competitions are about delivering snapshots of the scope, range and dramatic prowess of your voice and the fact is that most of the roles that lower men play in early music tend towards elderly men, kings, wizards and the like. These characters are great fun, don’t get me wrong, but they tend to be the second characters and not often the lead. As such, when you enter as a baritone you’re already somewhat on the back foot!”

“You go in trying to present yourself as best as possible to the panel,” he explained “I saw this competition mainly as an audition for five opera houses at once as well as anyone else in the room. That way, even if you don’t win anything or even make the finals, you’ve tried to present yourself positively to these people and hopefully they think to hire you down the track!”

The Cesti Voice Competition is named after the little-known Italian composer Pietro Antonio Cesti, who turned Innsbruck into a center for the Italian opera north of the Alps in the mid-17th century. The event attracts singers from all over the world with the winner given the opportunity to perform in a baroque opera at the Innsbruck Festival next season. This year’s competition saw 85 singers from 33 countries taking part in front of a jury chaired by Sebastian Black and comprising early music luminaries such as Alessandro De Marchi, Sophie Lint, Maurizio Fernández, Monacchi, Hein Ulders and Jochen Breiholz.

“Winning the prize in Innsbruck has already meant a few things for my fledgeling career,” says Pearse. “Looking past the obvious benefits of the cash prize which is really wonderful, I’ve already had a few people approach me for work in festivals and opera houses including the festival in Innsbruck next year. I think that my success in this competition has highlighted to many people at once in the early music world that I adore singing this repertoire and hopefully convinced a few people to hire me for some projects as naturally I would love any chance to perform it!”