Romanian soprano Ileana Cotrubas, born on June 9, 1939, enjoyed a career of two decades, cementing her legacy for a sweet timbre and strong dramatic presence.
She came from a musical family, her father a tenor in an amateur choir. She began her career at age nine as a member of a children’s radio choir and by 11 she was one of the soloists. She moved to Bucharest at age 13 to study in a school for the musically gifted and appeared at the Bucharest Opera in 1964. There, she slowly expanded her repertoire and started appearing throughout Europe.
From there, she went on to win a number of competitions and subsequent debuts at such major companies as the Vienna State Opera, Hamburg State Opera, Berlin State Opera, and Salzburg Opera, among others.
In the 1970s, after a strong career in Europe, she made her debut in North America and in 1977 appeared at the Metropolitan Opera where she sang until 1987.
She retired from singing in 1990 but went on to a career in teaching younger singers.
Cotrubas portrayed a wide range of opera roles but the two that she is best-known for are Mimì in “La Bohème” and Gilda in “Rigoletto.”
She made her American debut in the Puccini work in Chicago as well as the Met Opera. More famously, Cotrubas replaced Mirella Freni in the role at La Scala, arriving 15 minutes before the start of the opera after flying to Milan from her home in Kent. Her interpretation was renowned for the sweetness of her singing.
The sweet tone also matched the youthful Gilda, though Cotrubas was a unique interpreter of the role, lending greater dramatic weight to the opera where others focused on high notes.
Watch and Listen
Here is the soprano in “La Bohème” alongside José Carreras.
And here is an excerpt from “Rigoletto” alongside Cornell Macneil.