It’s not every prima donna who can boast a degree in biomedical engineering, but then, Isabel Bayrakdarian isn’t your average prima donna—in fact, she’d probably demur at being called a prima donna at all. In a career still in its second decade, an eagerly anticipated visitor to opera houses and concert halls the world over, she’s become as celebrated for her beauty, presence, and style as for a strikingly multihued voice that’s wholly in sync with the rest of her.
A winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1997—the same year she graduated from the University of Toronto cum laude with that impressively nonmusical degree—Ms. Bayrakdarian thereafter found her career taking rapid wing. In 1999 she scored a notable success in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s world premiere production of William Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge; the following year, she walked away from Plácido Domingo’s prestigious Operalia competition with first prize. She launched 2002 with her San Francisco Opera debut, as Valencienne in The Merry Widow, and closed it with her Metropolitan Opera debut, in the New York premiere of Bolcom’s opera; a season later, she won plaudits (and hearts) as Teresa in the belated Met premiere of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini. Mozart became a specialty: Zerlina in Don Giovanni (New York, Houston, Salzburg), Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro (Los Angeles, London), and Pamina in The Magic Flute (New York, Toronto). “How any man could not relent before the beautiful Isabel Bayrakdarian’s ardent Pamina was a mystery,” marveled the New York Times after her first Met Flute. But almost from the start, she’s refused to be hemmed in to a particular period or style. Her roles at her home-base theater, Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company, range from Gluck’s Euridice to Debussy’s Mélisande to Poulenc’s Blanche in Dialogues des Carmélites; and away from home she’s shone as Monteverdi’s Poppea in Barcelona, Handel’s Romilda (Serse) in Dresden, and Janáček’s Vixen in New York, Florence, and the Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto, Japan.
But opera is only one page of the Bayrakdarian résumé. An ever-active concertizer, she’s appeared with the premier orchestras of New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Paris, London, Vienna, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal under the baton of such eminent conductors as Seiji Ozawa, James Conlon, David Zinman, Michael Tilson Thomas, Alan Gilbert, Nicholas McGegan, Christoph von Dohnányi, Christoph Eschenbach, Colin Davis, Sir Andrew Davis, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mariss Jansons, Leonard Slatkin, James Levine, Anne Manson, Bramwell Tovey, Peter Oundjian and Richard Bradshaw.
Her versatility is also reflected in being the featured vocalist on the Grammy-award winning soundtrack of the blockbuster film The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers, and on the soundtrack of Atom Egoyan’s Ararat; a trance music collaboration with electronica band “Delerium”, which garnered yet another Grammy nomination, the BBC-produced short film “HOLOCAUST – A Music Memorial Film from Auschwitz”, which generated close to a million views on Youtube, and her Gemini nominated film “Long Journey Home” documenting her first visit to her homeland Armenia. Additional interesting forays include her very successful tango album and project Tango Notturno, a recording of Armenian medieval sacred music in Joyous Light, and her recording of Seven Spanish Songs with the composer, Manuel de Falla “accompanying” her on the piano, made possible by Zenph Sound Innovations Inc.
Bayrakdarian is the winner of four consecutive Juno Awards for Best Classical Album (Vocal)— for Azulão, a deft selection of Spanish, Brazilian, and Argentine songs, Cleopatra, baroque arias with Tafelmusik, a collection of songs by the great nineteenth-century singer/composer Pauline Viardot Garcia, and Mozart Arie e Duetti, a happy collaboration with two other famous Canadian singers, tenor Michael Schade and baritone Russell Braun. But her happiest collaborations, personal and professional, have involved the Armenian-Canadian pianist and composer Serouj Kradjian, her frequent accompanist and arranger and (not least) her husband and the father of their two young children. Their Nonesuch CD “Gomidas Songs” promoted and popularized the work of Armenian composer Gomidas Vartabed, earning them a Grammy nomination in 2009.
Other recordings with orchestra include Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 with John Axelrod conducting the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, released on the Sony Classical label, and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 , alongside mezzo soprano Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson and Michael Tilson-Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony.
Ms Bayrakdarian is the recipient of many awards, including the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee and the Diamond Jubilee Medals, the Arbor Award from the University of Toronto, the George London Foundation Award, and the Canada Council’s Virginia Parker Prize.