Meet Bath Opera’s Honorary Patron, Isobel Buchanan
“I am really thrilled and delighted to be Bath Opera’s new Honorary Patron”
Isobel Buchanan had a stratospheric early career: in the 1970s she was Scotland’s golden operatic talent, swept off to Australia by no less a figure than Joan Sutherland and catapulted into star roles and a staggeringly young international career. She signed a three-year contract with The Australian Opera and in 1976 made her professional opera debut as Pamina in the company’s production of The Magic Flute. She was the youngest Principal Artist in the company’s history. She was graced with the kind of light, instinctive voice that seemed to be able to handle anything: she was a ‘happy-go-lucky’ performer, she says, and recalls a typical request from Richard Bonynge to learn the role of the Countess in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in a week.
She returned to London with the Australian actor Jonathan Hyde. The pair met in Sydney thanks to former Scottish Opera chief Peter Hemmings, then general manager of Opera Australia, who was presenting a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
1978 saw her as Micaëla at the Vienna State Opera in the legendary production by Franco Zefirelli, with Placido Domingo, Obratsova and Mazurok. Conducted by Carlos Kleiber, the performance was broadcast live throughout Europe and has been released on CD and DVD. She made her British debut at Glyndebourne in 1978, again singing Pamina, in the Cox/Hockney production and in 1981 she sang the Countess in Peter Hall’s production of The Marriage of Figaro, a role repeated for the 50th Anniversary of the company in 1984 with Bernard Haitink conducting.
Isobel’s Covent Garden debut was in Parsifal, conducted by Solti. Among other roles, she went on to sing Sophie in Werther, with Alfredo Kraus and Teresa Berganza, later recording the opera with Jose Carreras and Frederica von Stade, Sir Colin Davis conducting. She has appeared in opera houses in Cologne, Paris, Munich, Santa Fe, Brussels, Hamburg, Sydney, Wellington, Chicago (with Pavarotti and Bergonzi), and Monte Carlo (with Raimondi). She has also appeared with all the major British orchestras and has collaborated with many of the world’s leading conductors, including Solti, Haitink, Andrew Davis, Colin Davis, Celibidache, Pritchard, Mariner, Kleiber and Menuhin.
After bringing up her two daughters, Isobel resumed her career singing recitals. The last performance she gave was the joint one with Malcolm Martineau and husband Jonathan Hyde based on WW1 for the Bath International Music Festival and reprised at the St Magnus Festival in Orkney with Joseph Middleton. She also teaches voice privately, acts as an external assessor for the RCM and Guildhall and gives master classes and workshops at colleges and festivals throughout the UK.
“I am plainly aware of age and stage,” she says. “I’ll probably never sing opera again. Never say never, though, and I do wonder about something hearty, something edgy, something that would allow me some real acting possibilities. I thought about [Janacek’s] Kostelnička, for example. I don’t think you get to be too cheerful in your sixties…”