The Romanian soprano, Ileana Cotrubas, grew up in a very musical family and her father, Vasile, was a tenor in an amateur chorus. Cotrubas' musical career began at the age of nine when she became a member of a children's radio chorus. By the age of 11, she was one of its leading soloists.
When her family moved to Bucharest in 1952, Ileana Cotrubas enrolled in the Scoala Speciala de Musica for musically gifted children. She continued her vocal studies until 1958 when, at the age of 19, she was accepted into the Ciprian Porumbescu Conservatory where she studied with Constantin Stroescu. Six years later, in 1964, she made her operatic debut at the Bucharest Opera as Yniold in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. With the Bucharest Opera, she expanded her repertory to include roles such as Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera, Gilda in Rigoletto, and Blondchen in The Abduction from the Seraglio.
In 1965, Ileana Cotrubas gained international recognition in Hertogenbosch, Holland, where she won first prize in opera, lieder, and oratio at a local singing competition. The following year, she won a radio-television competition in Munich and. Those awards, and her great success in the role of Pamina at Brussels, led to appearances in Vienna, Hamburg, Berlin and Salzburg, and to a contract with the Frankfurt Opera. During the next few years, she made her debuts in the major opera houses in Europe. She also made her British debut at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1969 as Mélisande, and in her two succeeding seasons there the title-role in Cavalli’s Calisto. One of the highlights of her career was her début at Covent Garden in 1971 as Tatyana in Eugene Onegin.
Ileana Cotrubas signed a three-year contract with the Vienna State Opera in 1970. During her time there, she learned the roles of Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Violetta in La Traviata, Mimi in La Bohème, and Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. Her contract, though, allowed her to sing abroad, and she made her American operatic debut in 1973 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Mimi.
On January 7, 1975, Ileana Cotrubas became an international star when she replaced Mirella Freni at La Scala as Mimi. She had to fly from her home in Kent and arrived 15 minutes before curtain time. The applause that followed her first act aria was fantastic and her interpretation was acclaimed by critics and audiences alike.
Ileana Cotrubas made her Metropolitan Opera debut in New York on March 23, 1977, as Mimi (the production also featured José Carreras and Renata Scotto). She returned to the Met as Gilda in a televised performance of Rigoletto in the 1977-1978 season, and as Violetta with Plácido Domingo in the 1980-1981 season.
Ileana Cotrubas is also well-known for being very demanding of directors and colleagues. On several occasions, she walked out of productions when she disagreed with the stage director. Two such incidents occured when she walked out of Eugene Onegin in Vienna in 1973, and she left a production of Don Pasquale in the rehearsal stages at the Met in 1980.
Ileana Cotrubas was also much in demand as a concert artist, and has sung in the recordings of Gustav Mahler’s Eight Symphony and Mozart’s La finta giardiniera and Cosi fan tutte.
Ileana Cotrubas retired from public singing in 1990, although she keeps herself busy by giving master-classes around the world and by coaching several singers, including the young Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu. She married musician Manfred Ramin in 1972.