Emma Pearson’s early vocal training started with a four year music degree at the University of WA, where she credits her singing teacher, baritone Andrew Foote, with giving her a thorough grounding in vocal technique. This was followed by acceptance into the newly formed Australian Opera Studio under the direction of baritone Gregory Yurisich. Looking back, Pearson believes that the greatest asset she gained from this two-year course was the ability to speed-learn an opera. Language coaching in Italian and German by Michael Schouten also opened up a new world and broadened her horizons.
Just before finishing at AOS she flew to New Zealand for the NBR Opera auditions, singing Fiordiligi’s fiestry Come Scoglio from Così fan Tutte as one of her audition pieces. She recalls: “They loved my energy and I felt free to be as fiery as I wanted.” She got the job, and toured to both islands of New Zealand, singing Fiordiligi, and was then invited to sing Mercédès in their mainhouse production of Carmen.
She capped her first professional year by winning two of opera’s most prestigious awards: The Mathy, and then the German-Australian Opera Grant. This led to her being a principal artist at the Hessisches Staatstheater, Wiesbaden in Germany from 2005 until 2014. On her departure from the Company the State of Hessen awarded her the honorary title of Kammersangerin. She is the youngest opera singer to have received this title.
Fortunately she was able to negotiate time off from Wiesbaden to perform in Europe and Australia in 2014. This was the last year of her contract and the ten years singing in German immediately paid off. After making her role debut as Sophie in a concert performance of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier in Valencia, Spain, Pearson stepped in as Sophie for OA’s production at the Sydney Opera House with Sheryl Barker as the Marschallin (now available on DVD). This led to Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute for OA. She was also invited to reprise Sophie in Valencia later in the year.
In 2015 she joined her husband, NZ bass Wade Kernot, who was based in Switzerland, and from there she freelanced in Europe, where she sang her first Gilda (Rigoletto) and Nannetta (Falstaff) before spending eight months training with a Zurich coach for another great Verdian role, Violetta in La Traviata: Pointing out that (after Germany) she wanted to spend more time on the Italian repertoire. Later that year she sang Violetta for Opera Queensland.
In professional terms, she sees ‘stepping in’ as the best kind audition, and many readers will recall her taking over the role of Susanna when Emma Matthews withdrew from WA Opera’s Marriage of Figaro in 2015. She had already sung the role for NBR New Zealand Opera with her husband Wade Kernot as Figaro.
Currently she is in Perth to perform Jennifer, with Wade as Arthur, the ex-pat. Greek tavern owner, in WA Opera’s production of The Riders. Coincidentally, Iain Grandage’s music composed for Jennifer reminds Pearson of Strauss’s Sophie: Same technique; colours and leaps (diminished 6ths abound); and she believes that The Riders is as well written for the female voice as Strauss’s great masterpiece (very high praise indeed): Adding that the coloratura sits well in her voice.
She also points out that although Jennifer is an elusive and enigmatic character in Winton’s novel, librettist Alison Croggon brings her to life. She portrays Jennifer is an outsider, who feels shut out, both artistically and by her family (Scully and Billie). Bird song, played by recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey, suggests that Jennifer wants/needs freedom to fly. The opera is open-ended and poses many questions. Perhaps for Pearson many of the answers still lie ahead in the weeks of rehearsal before Opening Night.