Pears studied at the University of Oxford, London. He then joined the Sadler’s Wells Opera, where he created the title role in Britten’s Peter Grimes (1945). In 1946 Pears helped Britten found the English Opera Group, and in 1947 they were instrumental in founding the Aldeburgh Festival., at the Royal College of Music, and then with Elena Gerhardt and Dawson Freer. In 1936 he met Britten, and in 1938 he gave the first of many song recitals with Britten as accompanist. The two men became lifelong companions.
Pears sang in the first performances of all of Britten’s operas, including Albert Herring, Billy Budd, Owen Wingrave, and Death in Venice. He also performed notably in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Bedřich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, and much of the Italian operatic repertory as well as in the song cycles of Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert and the Passions of J.S. Bach. He received a knighthood in 1977.