One of the world's leading singers (and one of the world's 50 most beautiful people, according to People magazine), the silver-haired Russian baritone Dmitry Hvorostovsky is coming to Israel for only one concert with the Ra'anana Symphonette this week. Born in 1962 in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, to an engineer and amateur singer/pianist who possessed a huge LP collection of the world's greatest singers, Hvorostovsky sang from his early childhood. After graduating from Krasnoyarsk School of Arts, where he studied under Yekatherina Yofel, he became a soloist for Krasnoyarsk Opera House. He catapulted to fame in 1989, when he won the Cardiff BBC Singer of the World competition. Speaking over the phone from his hotel room in St. Petersburg, Hvorostovsky confides that his international success was not a real surprise to him. "I was always aware of the special quality of my vocal instrument. Granted, it was kind of a maximalism of youth, but I used to think of myself only in categories - me and Caruso, me and Pavarotti. I started singing at Krasnoyarsk opera already in my second year in conservatory, and I knew that not many are able to do what is natural for me. After winning several vocal contests, I only became more self-confident." But he never planned to enter the Cardiff competition, which changed his life overnight. "I did not even hear about it and planned to go to Finland, or maybe to Spain," he says. "But the prominent Russian singer Irina Arkhipova just told me, 'You go there with me' - and I obeyed. I'm still grateful to her for this." Hvorostovsky's Western operatic debut was in The Queen of Spades at the Nice Opera in 1989; in Italy he debuted at La Fenice as the title character in Eugene Onegin, and in 1993, he made his American debut in La Traviata with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He has since performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, the Berlin State Opera, La Scala and the Vienna State Opera, among others. He is also in demand as a recitalist, and has appeared in every corner of the globe, performing with top orchestras under such conductors as James Levine, Bernard Haitink, Claudio Abbado, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Yuri Termikanov and Valery Gergiev. He still tours Russian cities annually, playing before packed houses in stadium-size arenas, and produces numerous CDs and DVDs. And if this weren't enough, he also starred in Don Giovanni Unmasked, an award-winning film based on the Mozart opera, tackling the dual roles of the lecherous nobleman and his disapproving manservant. ALTHOUGH HIS musical interests are diverse, Hvorostovsky sees himself first and foremost as an opera singer, with Verdi his favorite composer. "Verdi is my first childhood love. I dreamed of becoming an opera singer since I first heard a recording of Mario del Monaco singing in Aida with Renata Tebaldi, and then there were many other Italian singers, and of course Shaliapin - all from my father's vast collection," he says. "As a singer, I'm in my prime now. Luckily, I have not become a Mozart singer - because my vocal instrument is far more rich and flexible than Mozart's parts demand. The diapason of my baritone is very wide, and it only keeps flourishing with every new interesting Verdi role; it becomes more powerful, more vivid." Prominent composers have dedicated their pieces to Hvorostovsky. The distinguished Russian composer Georgi Sviridov wrote a song cycle, St. Petersburg. "Sviridov's art songs demand an utmost emotional involvement, otherwise they sound banal. This is why lately I almost don't perform them - it is too exhausting. I need some rest from it," says Hvorostovsky. As a contrast to Sviridov's intimate lieder, another prominent composer, Georgian Giya Kancheli, wrote "Do not Grieve" for a baritone and a symphony orchestra. The piece was commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony and premiered under Michael Tilson Tomas in 2002. "This is a powerful symphonic tableau, dedicated to the events of 9/11 - huge, tragic, with rich orchestral fragments and moments of ringing silence, of gaping emptiness," says Hvorostovsky. "With all due respect to the excellent San Francisco music forces, I believe that a Russian orchestra under a Russian conductor would be able to present an even better interpretation of this agonizing piece." In Israel, Hvorostovsky will sing arias from popular operas, as well as Russian songs. The open air concert takes place at Ra'anana Amphipark on July 4 at 9 p.m. Ion Marin conducts. For reservations, contact Hadran booking office at *2247 or (03) 521-5200, as well as Symphonette offices at (09) 745-7773.