The name David Gvinianidze doesn’t roll off your tongue like an Enrico Caruso, Luciano Pavarotti or his idol, Philadelphia’s own Mario Lanza.
In fact, don’t even try to pronounce it.
But that hasn’t stopped the man from Georgia — the former Soviet republic, not the Southern state — from building a career in what some consider a dying art: opera.
Just a few weeks after he competed in the musical duel between tenors and baritones at Congregations of Shaare Shamayim, Gvinianidze will return to the area for “Victorious Music of Spring” on May 5 at KleinLife in Northeast Philadelphia.
The theme of the concert, celebrating the liberation of Europe from the war and the Jews from Nazi concentration camps, has special meaning for the 39-year-old baritone Gvinianidze, who moved to the States about six months ago.
“My grandfather was a veteran who fought in the war,” he said. “He died before I was born, but I was named after him.
“The idea behind the concert is to make sure [the Holocaust] is never repeated. We want to try to refresh the memory of those who were alive and teach those who don’t know.”
And opera has become his vehicle.
“I was 18 when I first heard Mario Lanza, and I was in awe of his voice and his repertoire,” Gvinianidze said. “I started singing solos at 6 years old. Singing’s my entire world because it allows for self-expression.”
A child prodigy, Gvinianidze graduated from the Tbilisi Academy of Music, then became sort of a “Russian Idol” equivalent, appearing on a regular TV show and making appearances at top opera houses throughout Europe. He also won a number of international competitions and, in 2007, received a United Nations medal “for contribution to the development of culture.”
Yet as big a name as he was across the Atlantic Ocean, it wasn’t until just over a decade ago he began to lay his imprint here.
“The first time I had a tour in the U.S. was 2006,” said Gvinianidze, founder of Talents of the World, whose goal is to spread classical music and opera to a broader community. He returned to the U.S. to play Carnegie Hall at the 2009 Three Tenors From Around the World tribute to Lanza. “I felt the aura of the famous people who performed there throughout the years.
“Initially, I didn’t come here because didn’t want to travel so far. But someone talked me into it and when I arrived in the U.S., I fell in love with the country.
“Mostly, I loved the way people interact because they’re good-natured and kind to each other. In the Soviet Union, people are very intimidating and angry.”
However, one thing he’s never faced either back home or here is anti-Semitism.
“The city where I grew up, Kutaisi, is predominantly Jewish,” Gvinianidze said. “Anti-Semitism is nonexistent. Georgians are more accepting.”
Of bigger concern to him is getting people to accept — and like — opera.
“Unfortunately, opera is slowly losing its audience,” said Gvinianidze, whose dream is to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. “I love the classics: La Traviata, Carmen.”
He’s become somewhat of a classic himself.
“I had no idea who he was when someone in our singing group said we had someone who needed a microphone,” said Helen Marmur, who’s become both his producer and translator. “He’s very famous in Russia, but very down-to-earth.
“Once I heard him start to sing, my knees buckled.”
For more information about Gvinianidze’s May 5 performance, call 215-593-5061. l
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