Born in Lebanon in 1974 into an Armenian family, she moved to Canada as a teenager. Bayrakdarian graduated in 1997 from the University of Toronto with an honours B.A.Sc. in Engineering Science (Biomedical Engineering Option).
Isabel Bayrakdarian is noted as much for her stage presence as for her musicality, and she has followed a unique career path. Since winning first prize at the 2000 Operalia International Opera Competition founded by Plácido Domingo, she has launched an international opera career, appearing at the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House, La Scala, Opéra National de Paris, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Salzburg Festival, Dresden Semperoper, Bavarian State Opera, San Francisco Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and the Canadian Opera Company among others.
Her roles have included Euridice in Orfeo ed Euridice, Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare, Romilda in Serse, Emilia in Flavio, Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Pamina in The Magic Flute, Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Marzelline in Fidelio, Adina in L'elisir d'amore, Norina in Don Pasquale, Leila in Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, Teresa in Benvenuto Cellini, Mélisande in Pelléas et Mélisande, the Vixen in The Cunning Little Vixen, Blanche in Dialogues of the Carmelites and Catherine in A View from the Bridge.
Her concert schedule includes appearances with the Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco symphony orchestras, Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, and the National Arts Centre Orchestra, singing under the baton of such conductors as Seiji Ozawa, James Conlon, David Zinman, Michael Tilson Thomas, Christoph von Dohnányi, Christoph Eschenbach, Colin Davis, Andrew Davis, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mariss Jansons, Leonard Slatkin, James Levine, Peter Oundjian and Richard Bradshaw.
Bayrakdarian is the subject of a film entitled A Long Journey Home that documents her first trip to Armenia. A major North American tour by Bayrakdarian in October 2008 featured the music of Komitas Vardapet with concerts in Toronto, San Francisco, Orange County, Vancouver, Toronto, Boston and New York's Carnegie Hall. She was accompanied by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra conducted by Anne Manson, and pianist Serouj Kradjian. This "Remembrance Tour" was dedicated to victims of all genocides and was sponsored by the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (a division of Zoryan Institute).
In addition to her first prize at the Operalia Competition and four consecutive Juno Awards, Bayrakdarian has been awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, the 2005 Virginia Parker Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Leonie Rysanek Award from the George London Foundation, the Mesrob Mashdots Medal on behalf of the Holy See of Cilicia on August 15, 2004, and a Metropolitan Opera National Council Award in 1997.
Her first recording, titled Joyous Light was released in March 2002 and rose to No. 1 in the Canadian classical charts. Soon afterwards, her vocals were featured in Atom Egoyan's film Ararat, and in the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in the track "Evenstar".
Since then she has won four consecutive Juno Awards for "Classical Album of the Year - Vocal or Choral Performance" for the following recordings: Azulão (Bluebird), an album featuring Spanish and Latin American songs (2004); Cleopatra, featuring arias sung by the character Cleopatra from operas by Handel, Carl Heinrich Graun, Johann Adolph Hasse and Johann Mattheson (2004); Pauline Viardot: Lieder Chansons Canzoni Mazurkas, (2006); and Mozart: Arie e Duetti with fellow Canadians Russell Braun and Michael Schade (2007). In late 2007, Tango Notturno, a collection of tango songs, was released on CBC Records. Her album Isabel Bayrakdarian: Gomidas Songs, featuring songs by the 19th century Armenian composer Gomidas Vardabet, was released on September 23, 2008 on the Nonesuch label and is nominated for a Grammy in the Best Classical Vocal Performance category.
Popular and crossover
- Millennium Gala (2001, CBC Records)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers soundtrack (2002)
- Ararat soundtrack (2002)
- guest on Delerium: Nuages du Monde (2006, Nettwerk)
- Tango Notturno (2007, CBC Records) tangos by Arno Babajanian (sung in Armenian), Fareed el-Atrache (sung in Arabic), Unto Mononen (sung in Finnish), Carlos Gardel and Aníbal Troilo (sung in Spanish), Kurt Weill (sung in French), Hans-Otto Borgmann (sung in German).
- Komitas Vardapet Gomidas Songs (2008, Nonesuch) with Chamber Players of the Armenian Philharmonic conducted by Eduard Topchjan; Serouj Kradjian, piano
- Joyous Light (2002, CBC Records) Armenian Sacred Songs, Sahag Bartev (348-437), Abbot Khachatur of Taron (1100–1184), Mekhitar Vartabed of Ayrivank (1222–1307), St. Gregory of Nareg (951–1003), Gomidas Vartabed, with the Elmer Iseler Chamber Orchestra, cond. Raffi Armenian.
- Lullaby by Parsegh Ganatchian, on Armenian Chamber Music Atma, 2010.
- Azulão (2003, CBC Records) Songs by Manuel de Falla, Enrique Granados, Carlos Guastavino, Xavier Montsalvatge, Fernando Obradors, Jaime Ovalle
- Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (2004, San Francisco Symphony label) with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and the San Francisco Symphony & Chorus conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.
- Handel, Mattheson and Hasse Cleopatra (2004, CBC Records) with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.
- Pauline Viardot: Lieder Chansons Canzoni Mazurkas (Analekta, 2004)
- Mozart: Arie e Duetti (2006, CBC Records) with Russell Braun, Michael Schade and the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, conducted by Richard Bradshaw.
- Opera Night at Cologne (2005)
- Handel: Serse (2005)
- A Long Journey Home (2005)
- Mozart: Don Giovanni. Live from Salzburg (2006)
- Great Performances at the Met: The Magic Flute (2007)
- Opera Under the Stars. Live in Ottawa at LeBreton Flats Park with the Canadian Opera Company (2007)
- Eatock, Colin (2008-05-06). "Has child, wil travel - a lot". The Globe And Mail. Retrieved 2008-08-28.
- "Operalia winners 2000". Retrieved 2008-08-26.
- "DVD Review: Serse". ClassicsToday. Retrieved 2008-08-28.
- Knelman, Martin (2007-10-09). "We're hoping Isabel Bayrakdarian will come home". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2008-08-28.
- "Telefilm Documentaries". Retrieved 2008-08-26.
- "Roy Thomson Hall Events". Retrieved 2008-08-26.[dead link]
- "www.genocidestudies.org" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-10-30.
- "News Releases 2005". Canada Council for the Arts. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
- The Holy Sea of Cilicia Bestows the "Sourp Mesrob Mashdots" Medal to Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian Retrieved October 07, 2011.
- Robbins, Li (2007-12-10). "Isabel Bayrakdarian's big week". CBC. Retrieved 2008-08-28.
- Tango Notturno (2007, CBC Records) Full texts and translations in booklet
- "Gomidas Songs". Retrieved 2008-08-26.