Isobel Buchanan was born in Glasgow and won a scholarship to The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 1971. Whilst there, she attained her Diplomas for teaching and performing, won The Governors’ Recital Prize for Singing and was named Student of the Year 1974.
The following year, she auditioned for Richard Bonynge and Joan Sutherland who offered her a three year contract to sing with the Australian Opera Company in Sydney. She made her debut as Pamina in The Magic Flute to great acclaim and she went on to sing the role in many of the great opera houses of the world. Other roles with the A.O. included Fiordiligi, The Countess, Zerlina, Micaela, Norina, Gilda, Amelia, Helena ( A Midsummer Night’s Dream ) and Blanche ( Dialogues of the Carmelites ).
Isobel made her British debut at Glyndebourne in 1978 singing the role of Pamina in the famous Cox/Hockney production of Die Zauberflöte and returned there to repeat the role in 1980. In 1981, she sang La Contessa in Le Nozze di Figaro, directed by Sir Peter Hall and was privileged to repeat the role for the 50th anniversary of the company in 1984. She also returned to sing Dorabella before taking time out to bring up her two young daughters.
At the end of 1978, Isobel sang Micaela for the Vienna Staatsoper in a production of Carmen by Franco Zeffirelli, with Placido Domingo and Elena Obratsova. Carlos Kleiber conducted all the performances, the first of which was broadcast live throughout Europe and is still available on CD and DVD.
She made her debut with The Royal Opera House in Parsifal, conducted by Georg Solti, who was so impressed that he offered her concerts in the Festival Hall, Carnegie Hall and Symphony Hall, Chicago.
She sang two seasons for the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Zerlina in Don Giovanni and as Adina in L’elisir d’amore with Carlo Bergonzi and later with Luciano Pavarotti, who had requested her for the role, having recorded with her in London in La sonnambula with Joan Sutherland.
Isobel’s debut in her home town of Glasgow was as Mimi in La bohème conducted by Sir Alexander Gibson, with whom she also sang many concerts. She returned to Scottish Opera to sing Ilia in Idomeneo, ( a role she performed for the re-opening of La Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels in 1982 with John Pritchard at the helm ) and later to sing her first Susannah, having sung many performances of La Contessa in the Le Nozze di Figaro in productions around the world.
Other roles have included The Governess in The Turn of the Screw for Paris, Cologne and Munich, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni with Ruggiero Raimondi in Monte Carlo and James Morris in Sydney, Blanche in Dialogues of the Carmelites with Joan Sutherland, and Amelia in Simon Boccanegra, conducted by Charles MacKerras, both in Sydney.
Isobel has appeared with all the major British orchestras and has travelled the world singing with conductors such as Carlos Kleiber, Georg Solti, Andrew Davis, Colin Davis, Celibidache, John Pritchard, Neville Mariner, Richard Bonynge, and Yehudi Menuhin.
She has won many prizes and accolades and her recording of the Mahler 2nd Symphony with Solti was awarded the Grande Prix du Disque. She was also named Star of Scotland by public vote in 1976.
In 1981, the BBC commissioned a documentary of her work to date, directed by Michael Radford, who went on the become a well known film director. She has also had her own TV series and has appeared as a guest on other TV and radio shows, such as Face the Music and The Michael Parkinson Show.
Isobel lives near Frome, where she teaches privately. She gives masterclasses and workshops throughout the U.K. and acts as external examiner for the Music Colleges in London.