Born Ionel Perlea in Ograda, Romania, he studied in Munich with Beer-Waldbrunn and Kotana, then in Liepzig with Martinsen and Graener. He made his debut in concert in Bucharest in 1919, then worked as repetiteur in Leipzig (1922-23) and Rostock (1923-25), and made his debut as conductor in Cluj-Napoca in 1927, in Aida.
He made his debut at the Bucharest Opera in 1928, and was music director of that theatre from 1934 until 1944. He conducted several local premieres such as Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, Der Rosenkavalier, etc. He made guest appearances in Vienna, Stuttgart, Breslau, Berlin, Paris. After the war, he conducted mostly in Italy, notably at La Scala in Milan (1947-52), debut in Samson et Dalila, and again conducted several local premieres such as Capriccio in Genoa, Mazeppa and The Maid of Orleans in Florence. He also conducted creations by Bianchi, Bucchi, Rota, etc. He was guest conductor at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, for the 1949-50 season, his work there included Tristan und Isolde, Rigoletto, La traviata, Carmen.
Following a heart attack and a stroke in 1957, he learned to conduct with his left arm only, and worked mostly in concert and recordings. A fine and often underrated condutor, he taught at the Manhattan School of Music from 1952 until 1969.
Perlea died in New York City at the age of 69.