THE ARTS11.05.10
THE ARTS11.05.10

Opera prodigy gives back to JFCS with benefit concert

Fourteen years ago, George Komsky was at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette taking voice lessons from the synagogue’s cantor.

This wasn’t early preparation for his bar mitzvah, however. The song sheet placed before the 11-year-old was Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender.” It was the first piece of music he ever learned.

George Komsky photo/carla choy

Years of vocal training would follow that fateful day, as well as a stint in Italy to perform at St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome and appearances in Riverdance and on “America’s Got Talent” — Komsky says Simon Cowell even praised his song choice,  “Caruso” by Luciano Pavarotti.

On Nov. 21, the 25-year-old Komsky will perform a night of classical, pop and Neapolitan opera, Yiddish music and several songs in Russian at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. 

A portion of the night’s proceeds will be donated to S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services — an agency for which Komsky has deep gratitude.

“If you put together a charity concert where you don’t have a personal stake in the charity, it becomes more like a business transaction,” Komsky said. “You’re still doing a good thing, but it’s not as meaningful. I thought about what charity would hit home for people who have been through the immigration process, and JFCS is that charity.”

Komsky was 3 years old when his family sought help from JFCS after fleeing the Soviet Union in 1988 and settling in Walnut Creek, then Danville. The arduous, 10-year immigration process had taken its toll on his family, which had faced persecution after announcing intentions to leave their homeland.

“You become an enemy of the state,” Komsky said, adding that his family (including his grandparents) was nearly broke when it arrived in the United States. “I think about what could have been had JFCS and other organizations not stepped in, and I am truly grateful. We can never repay them, but the concert is a small token of my appreciation.”

The concert is also Komsky’s first solo show in San Francisco, but he won’t be alone on stage.

The lineup includes a few special appearances — among them Komsky’s singing partner, Broadway vocalist Becca Stockton, and the choir from Danville’s  Monte Vista High School in, his alma mater.

A musical tribute to American and Russian veterans in the audience, with songs from 1940s and ’50s, is also planned, to mark the 65th anniversary of World War II.

While he considers the Bay Area to be home, Komsky spends most of his time in Los Angeles training with renowned vocal coach Seth Riggs, whose past students have included Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Natalie Cole and Josh Groban.

He also finds time to attend the Synagogue for the Performing Arts, whose membership boasts actors, screenwriters, musicians and behind-the-scenes professionals in Hollywood.

“It’s rewarding to be part of this community,” Komsky said. “If you’re in a different city and don’t have family around you, it’s so good to have something to look forward to that’s better than a club or a movie.”

In the past 16 months, Komsky and Riggs have built a repertoire that highlights his talent as a light lyric tenor opera singer with roles written by classical composers such as Mozart, Rossini and Donizetti.

It’s not exactly material that attracts audience members in their 20s like Komsky, but he hopes the upcoming concert will have mass appeal.

“I know the music in the clubs,” Komsky said. “But there’s a certain timelessness to the music I perform. Top 40 songs come and go, but this beautiful music makes you feel.”

It had that effect on Komsky, who would imitate Pavarotti at a young age. His mother overheard him belting “Caruso” in the shower and told his grandfather, Leo, then a Temple Isaiah employee, about her son’s “loud voice.”

Leo then took Komsky to his first lesson with the cantor. A few years later, he earned a spot in UCLA’s opera program and then landed a coveted spot on the first season of “America’s Got Talent” in 2006, after a fortuitous performance in front of one of the show’s producers during a Hollywood showcase.

Komsky was a semifinalist and hopes to be a repeat contestant.

For now, his focus is on the upcoming concert and planning future charity events for other Jewish causes.

“An artist’s greatest feeling is when he’s on stage and people are enjoying what he’s doing,” Komsky said. “If you can combine that and do some good at the same time, then you’re really lucky.”

“George Komsky Live in Concert” begins 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21  at Herbst Theatre,  401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.  $30-$40.  To purchase tickets, visit www.cityboxoffice.com or call (415) 392-4400.