Ileana Cotrubas was born in Romania and made her first public appearance as soloist of the Children’s Chorus of the Romanian Radio. She was educated at the ‘Scuola speciala de Musica’ and studied at the Bucharest Conservatory, where her principal singing teachers were Prof. Eugenia Eliescu and Prof. Constantin Stroescu.
After making her debut in 1964 as Yniold at the ‘Opera Romana’ in Bucharest and singing there roles like Siebel, Oscar, Cherubino, Blondchen and Gilda, the Romanian Ministry of Culture sent her to the International Singing Competition 1965 in Hertogenbosch and the 1966 Munich Radio Competition at both of which she won the first prize.
Before starting her first major engagement abroad, a 3-year-contract with the Frankfurt Opera, she went to the Vienna Academy of Music to complete her studies. International engagements followed soon: the festivals in Salzburg, Glyndebourne and Florence, and the two opera houses where she appeared regularly every season, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and the Wiener Staatsoper. At the Paris Opera she sang a new production of Manon (Massenet), and in 1975 she made her debut at La Scala, Milano, flying in from London to arrive just in time for the opening performance of La Bohème.
She then sang Mimì at La Scala’s first visit to the USA in 1976, and again in Milan in 1977 and 1979, when the performance was televised worldwide. Mimì was also the role for debuts in Chicago and San Francisco, as well as the Metropolitan Opera New York, where she was invited back for new productions of Rigoletto, La Traviata (televised live to Europe) and Idomeneo, and revivals of Bohème and Onegin. In Germany her performances of La Traviataat the Bayerische Staatsoper Munich have been much acclaimed and also been recorded for Deutsche Grammophon. At the Salzburg Festival she sang Pamina (1978-84), Konstanze (1980, 81) and recitals and concerts with orchestra. Her main repertoire included the roles of Susanna, Zerlina, Pamina, Amina, Norina, Adina, Gilda, Violetta, Mimi, Micaela, Antonia, Manon (Massenet), Melisande, Tatyana, Sophie; in a later part of her career she sang also Rosalinde (Paris 1983), Elisabetta Don Carlo (Covent Garden 1985), Nedda (Wien 1985), Marguerite (Hamburg 1985), Amelia Simone Boccanegra (Napoli and Wien 1986), Alice (Covent Garden 1987), Desdemona (Barcelona 1988) and Charlotte (Lisbon and Wien 1990).
In addition to opera, Miss Cobrubas appeared in concerts with the leading European orchestras; she gave Lieder recitals in the Musikverein Wien, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, La Scala Milano, Carnegie Hall New York, in Paris, Munich, Salzburg, Zürich, Geneve etc. and concert tours took her to Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, the Macao Festival and Taiwan.
Her recordings include Bach cantatas, Mozart masses, Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten, Brahms Requiem, and complete opera performances of La Calisto, Rinaldo, Cosi fan tutte, Le Nozze di Figaro, Die Zauberflöte, L’elisir d’amore, Alzira, La Traviata, Rigoletto, Les Pecheurs de Perles, Carmen, Manon, Louise, Hänsel und Gretel, a recital disc with arias by Mozart, Donizetti, Verdi, Charpentier, Puccini, and Hugo Wolf’s Italienishces Liederbuch as well as a disc with Lieder by Schubert, Britten, Fauré, Brahms.
TV-films show her in La Calisto (Glyndebourne), Idomeneo (MET), Le Nozze di Figaro (Glyndebourne), Die Zauberflöte (Saltzburg Festival),La Gazza Ladra (Köln), Rigoletto (MET), La Traviata (MET), Don Carlo(Covent Garden), Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Covent Garden), La Bohème (La Scala and Covent Garden), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Glyndebourne), Die Fledermaus (Paris), and various concerts, including the Verdi Requiem (Concertgebouw/Muti).
Ileana Cotrubas was made in 1981 Austrian Kammersängerin, and in 1991 Honorary Member of the Wiener Staatsoper. In 1990 she received from Portugal the order ‘Grande-Oficial de San’Iago da Espada’. Since 1995 she has been an Honorary Citizen of Bucharest.
In 1990 she retired from the stage to devote her time to working with young singers. In 1998 her book ‘Opernwahrheiten’ (Truth in Opera) was published, which was called by several opera magazines ‘a pamphlet against Regietheater’.