The Skylarks (Part 1)

Ileana Cotrubaş (born June 9, 1939, Galaţi), is among the world's most beloved opera singers.

Although she grew up in a fairly musical family - her father and mother both sang - she aspired, when a child, to an acting career in Hollywood. Before adolescence, however, she had joined a children chorus that occasionally performed on Romanian radio and in local opera presentations. Within a few years she had reached solo status in the chorus, and when her family moved from Galaţi to Bucharest in the early 1950s, she entered a music school. She devoted her first two years there to a variety of studies, including conducting, playing piano and violin, and acting. In her mid-teens, she finally began concentrating on singing. Her voice, however, was considered too modest, and she was initially rejected for further study by the Ciprian Porumbescu Conservatory Bucharest. After an additional year of music theory and practice Cotrubaş reapplied to the conservatory in 1958 and gained acceptance.

Under the guidance of her teachers, Ileana shaped her singing voice into one featuring a more adult range. This work occupied much of her time at the conservatory, though she was also able to continue her piano studies and indulge in athletics. She also studied several languages, including those in which most operas are written - Italian, German, and French. Her most impressive feat during this period, though, was as triple winner at an important Dutch vocal competition. Scoring victories in the key categories of opera, oratorio, and lieder, Cotrubaş consequently appeared on the Dutch stage in Mozart's Magic Flute and The Abduction From the Seraglio. The following year Cotrubaş scored another triumph at a West German competition, and her career was assured.

Throughout the remainder of the 1960s Cotrubaş continued to sing in Europe. Among her greatest successes at this time was at a Glyndebourne Festival production in 1969 under conductor John Pritchard. The next year she again thrilled British audiences when she appeared at London's Covent Garden, and in the ensuing years the British public came to hold her in unusual affection. She returned to the continent and sang for three years with the Vienna State Opera. Cotrubaş's first triumph in America, had come in 1973 when she appeared as Mimi in the Chicago Lyric Opera's presentation of Puccini's La Boheme. Puccini's opera has also proved a key work for Cotrubaş, as it was the opera with which she made her debuts at two of the world's greatest opera houses - La Scala and the Metropolitan. At La Scala, she was a last-minute replacement in 1975 opposite the great Luciano Pavarotti who, upon learning that scheduled soprano Mirella Freni was ill, reportedly cried, "Get Cotrubaş!" Recalling the event, she told the New York Times, "In the end they shouted and shouted, and Pavarotti... left me alone for the applause. And I thanked God". She was similarly successful at the Metropolitan. She sang on the most famous world stages and she is much in demand, worldwide, as a teacher. Cotrubaş retired from public singing in 1990, but she continues to teach, giving master classes and coaching promising young singers.

Though diminuitive and endearing, Cotrubaş has also developed a reputation as an exacting, demanding performer, one who is adamant in her refusal to compromise her work. "I'm demanding a lot from other people because I'm giving. I have to give, because I have some special qualities; like any artist, I have to transmit these feelings, and I can't do this without a good conductor, understanding colleagues, and a serious director".