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11-year-old opera prodigy prepares for US debut

Clark Rubinshtein had his first solo concert in a German castle last summer. The place was packed, and he was asked back for another concert in December at a larger venue.

On Thursday, Jan. 9, Clark will perform his first American solo concert at Jordan Hall, where he will sing in seven languages, quite a feat for an 11-year-old. His debut is sponsored by his parents, Irina and Michael Rubinshtein, who are starting a nonprofit concert series for Boston children with a knack for classical music.

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On posters in the Bavarian town where he performed last summer, Clark was billed as “The Little Caruso from Boston.” Indeed, the Newton sixth-
grader stands just 4 foot 11. But when he opens his mouth to sing, he sounds much older and more imposing, hence the reference to legendary Italian tenor Enrico Caruso.

“Clark has a rare talent,” said his voice instructor, Alexander Prokhorov, artistic director of Commonwealth Lyric Theater and cofounder of Lucky Ten Studio in Brighton, a performing arts studio for children. “He has a wonderful voice, amazing musicianship, and charisma.”

Clark is probably the youngest to give a solo vocal recital at Jordan Hall, which is owned by the New England Conservatory of Music. Ellen Pfeifer, spokeswoman for the conservatory, could not say with certainty whether anyone younger has performed a solo concert.

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“It certainly seems unlikely,” she said. “But we don’t keep records of every person presented by the Celebrity Series, Boston Baroque, Cantata Singers . . . or the myriad other groups who rent the space.”

Though he will sing in seven languages, Clark does not speak seven languages.

“I speak a little French, Spanish, Latin, Russian, and English,” he said. “And a tiny bit of German.” At his most recent German concert, he sang in Russian, German, Italian, English, and Latin.

He is coached in pronunciation for the songs he will perform and has a photographic memory for both music and words, said Prokhorov, whose young opera company performed “Aleko,” a Rachmaninoff opera, in June. Clark sang in the children’s chorus.

Irina Rubinshtein, 40, is the force behind her son’s precocious career. She is chatty and effusive, gesturing as she speaks in accented English. She moved to the United States from Russia in 1992, working as a musician and music teacher before attending the New England School of Law. Since 2002, she has had a private law practice, managed by her husband Michael, who is from Ukraine.

But it is Irina who manages Clark’s singing pursuits, arranging the lessons, setting up shows, publicizing him.

“Clark gets his musical talent from his mother,” his father said.

Since they were very young, Irina has taken both boys — son Brandon will be 9 in February — to the theater, opera, ballet, and museums.

“I’ve really been in touch with classical music all my life,” said Clark, who on a recent day at home was wearing jeans, a beige sweater and socks, no shoes.

His favorite composer?

“That’s a hard question.” He paused. “Probably Schubert. Or Mozart.”

At 9, he began taking private voice lessons with Prokhorov and joined Lucky Ten Studios. He also studies with choreographer and Lucky Ten cofounder Anna Kravets, who works with him on operatic stage movements.

“Clark always sang well, but nothing too extraordinary,” said his mother. “But after a couple of months with Sasha, Clark’s voice started changing, the volume, the range.” Sasha is the nickname of Prokhorov, a pianist and bass baritone who emigrated from Russia in 1999.

“He has, as I call it, an ‘opera gene,’ ” Prokhorov said of Clark. “These kinds of kids usually sing 24/7. They always take an initiative to learn new repertoire. They love to be on stage and feel at home there. Singing for them is the whole world.”

Such children are rare. Prokhorov also teaches jazz, pop, and Broadway, because, he said, “most kids don’t want to sing opera.”

But Clark does.

“My voice is not really made for pop, but for Neapolitan, classic opera,” he said.

In the Rubinshtein’s music room, Prokhorov sat at a Yamaha grand piano and warmed up with Clark. On the piano was sheet music from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” He told the boy to relax.

As Clark sings, his mother listens intently, her pride obvious. “Sometimes,” she said, “they work on two notes for 10 minutes.”

After the family returned from Clark’s first concert in Germany, Irina and Michael Rubinshtein decided that young singers in Boston needed more showcasing.

Susanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Clark Rubinshtein did vocal exercises with his voice teacher, Alexander Prokhorov, at home in Newton.

“There are a lot of talented kids in Sasha’s studio,” she said, “but in Boston there’s not too much opportunity for classical solo work.”

So they started a nonprofit called the Child Prodigy Concert Series of Boston Inc.

“We rented Jordan Hall, and Clark will be the first little bird of this series,” Irina says. Other gifted children will be added, in consultation with Lucky Ten Studio.

Clark was invited to sing in Germany after Pawel Izdebski, an acclaimed bass vocalist who lives there, heard a recording of him and offered to arrange a Bavarian concert. After the first concert sold out, Izdebski organized another one in a larger space in December, which also sold out. He and Prokhorov will sing as guest artists at Clark’s Jordan Hall debut.

Lidiya Yankovskaya, music director at Lowell House Opera and Commonwealth Lyric Theater, has worked with Clark on several productions.

“In each case, Clark’s maturity and performance level placed him on par with many seasoned professionals,” she said.

When he’s not singing, Clark likes to draw and paint, play chess and ping pong.

Some of his paintings adorn his bedroom walls, along with a periodic table that he made. There is a bookcase of Russian books, including Shakespeare, and another filled with English books. His family speaks both Russian and English in the home.

Television?

“I’ve grown apart from it,” Clark said. “Once in a while, I’ll watch a show on Netflix.”

But there is not much time for it. His schedule is as packed as a full opera house, with piano and vocal classes, gymnastics, wrestling, art lessons, chess, and basketball. Clark’s brother Brandon follows a similar schedule.

Then there are performances. Clark will sing almost anywhere he is asked, for senior citizens, at receptions and corporate events, sometimes twice in one day. On Jan. 1, he sang “America the Beautiful” at the inauguration of Mayor Setti Warren of Newton. At a reception afterward, he sang selections from “The Magic Flute” and “The Pirates of Penzance.”

It is all pretty heady stuff for a middle-schooler and pretty expensive stuff, too. After years at Newton Montessori School, Clark transferred to the public Oak Hill Middle School this year to save money that can go toward his music lessons and other activities.

Prokhorov believes that Clark’s opera future is bright. But there may be a cloud hovering in the distance: puberty. What happens when his voice changes?

“It’s in God’s hands,” said Prokhorov, holding out his own hands and looking heavenward.

Bella English can be reached at english@globe.com.
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