Isabel Bayrakdarian

Isabel Bayrakdarian. Soprano, born at Zahlé, Lebanon 1974; BASc. (Toronto) 1997.

Immigrating to Toronto with her parents as a teenager, Isabel Bayrakdarian began her musical activities by singing in church choirs. Concurrent with her degree studies in biomedical engineering at the University of Toronto, Bayrakdarian pursued vocal studies with Jean MacPhail at the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM). In 1996, she won the "22 and Under" category in the Canadian Music Competition. That same year, she was selected for the annual Carnegie Hall debut concert for young musicians of Armenian heritage. Bayrakdarian's first major award was the Metropolitan Opera National Council Award in 1997. Soon afterward, she secured a place in the Canadian Opera Company's (COC) Ensemble auditions. COC artistic director Richard Bradshaw and vocal coach Stuart Hamilton were important formative influences.

Early Success

During the summer of 1998, Bayrakdarian studied at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, (USA) and replaced Pamina in a student production of Mozart's The Magic Flute on a day's notice. The performance was a resounding success, and Marilyn Horne, Director of the Voice Program, included the young diva in her annual birthday celebration at Carnegie Hall in January, 2000. In October 1999, Bayrakdarian replaced the singer portraying Catherine in the world premiere of Malcolm Bolcolm's A View from the Bridge at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Apart from these early successes, it was through winning first place in Plácido Domingo's Operalia Competition (2000) where she also took the Zarzuela prize, that Bayrakdarian achieved international recognition.

Opera and Recital Work

Bayrakdarian has appeared on stages throughout Europe, North America, Asia and Australia, admired as much for her stage presence as for her musicality. In Canada she has appeared with the Toronto Symphony, the Montreal Symphony, Tafelmusik, Les Violons du Roy, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and others.

As recitalist, Bayrakdarian has performed and toured with her husband, the pianist/composer Serouj Kradjian. Others with whom she has collaborated include the Amici Chamber Ensemble, cellist Steven Isserlis, and pianists James Parker and Connie Shih.

Her operatic roles have included Bystrouškain in Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen with the New York Philharmonic at Tanglewood, a role she repeated at the Saito Kinen Festival (Japan), and at the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. She appeared as Poppea in Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione de Poppea at the Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona, and as Blanche in Robert Carsen's production of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites at the Lyric Opera of Chicago with Andrew Davis. Bayrakdarian has earned acclaim for her Mozart roles, among them: Zerlina in Don Giovanni (Metropolitan Opera), Despina in Cosi fan Tutte (Palau des Arts, Valencia), Susannah in The Marriage of Figaro (Houston Grand Opera), and Illia in Idomeneo (Paris Opera). Leading roles with the COC have included Mélisande in Pelléas et Mélisande and Euridice in Orfeo ed Euridice.

Recordings and Awards

Bayrakdarian has recorded for the CBC, Analekta, ATMA and Nonesuch labels. Of particular significance is her interest in Armenian music, reflected in Joyous Light (2002) and Gomidas Songs (2008). She has won 4 consecutive JUNO awards: for Azulao (with James Parker, 2004); Cleopatra (with Tafelmusik, 2005); with Kradjian for songs by Viardot-Garcia (2006); and for Mozart Arie e Duetti (with Michael Schade and Russell Braun, 2007). Bayrakdarian sang for the Grammy Award-winning film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), and the Canadian film Ararat, released the same year. She was a cast member in video productions including Opera Night at Cologne (2005), Handel's Serse (2005), Mozart's Don Giovanni (2006), and Opera Under the Stars (2007).

Bayrakdarian's honours include the George London-Leonie Rysanek Award from the George London Foundation (2000), the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002), and the Virginia Parker Prize (2005).

Selected Readings

Schabas, Ezra, and Carl Morey. Opera Viva: The Canadian Opera Company The First Fifty Years (2000);); Hamilton, Stuart and Lofti Mansouri. Opening Windows - Confessions of a Canadian Vocal Coach (2012).