The standard was high this year and the judges took their time to decide. “They made it very difficult. It was very close,” said Fiona Janes, Artistic Director of the Joan Sutherland & Richard Bonynge Foundation and one of the judges when they finally emerged with the results.

In the end, Benson Wilson, a 27-year old baritone born in New Zealand of Samoan descent, won the Bel Canto Award worth $30,000, while the Elizabeth Connell Prize went to French soprano Claire de Monteil.

Benson Wilson, Maestro Richard Bonynge and Claire de Monteil. Photograph © Zohar Izenberg

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Bel Canto Award, which is open to Australian and New Zealand singers aged 20 to 30 years old. The Final, with prizes totalling $95,000, was held at Verbrugghen HallSydney Conservatorium of Music on Saturday September 1, with Richard Bonynge, Bernadette Cullen, Fiona Janes, Anne-Maree McDonald and Patricia Price as judges.

Australian soprano Livia Brash took out the second prize, while Tongan New Zealander Filipe Manu came third. The other finalists were soprano Olivia Canwell, baritone Andrew Williams and soprano Jessie Wilson.

The finalists were judged on two arias sung at the Final,...