Interview with Cotrubas (June 2000)
Ileana Cotrubas was born on June 9, 1939, in Galati, Romania. She 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, she 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, 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, 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, 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 her Covent Garden debut the following year as Tatyana in Eugene Onegin.
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 1977-78 season, and as Violetta with Placido Domingo in the 1980-81 season.
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 retired several years ago, although she keeps herself busy by giving masterclasses around the world and by coaching several singers, including the young Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu. She married musician Manfred Ramin in 1972.