Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.
Sound Bites: André Courville
The bass-baritone’s CAJUN background helps make him parfait in FRENCH rep.
by Brian Kellow.
Photograph by Dario Acosta
ANDRÉ COURVILLE began to sing the “Air du tambour-major,” from Thomas’s Caïd, at Los Angeles’s Loren L. Zachary Society Competition last May, and suddenly there was no doubt who was going to take home the $12,500 top prize. It was one of those jaw-dropping moments when you sense a singer stepping into his own brilliant future. Courville’s basso cantante has both smooth richness and bite, and the Thomas aria was an inspired choice. “It has a fun melody, fast runs at the end, high notes and legato line,” says the twenty-nine-year-old Courville. “It has everything. I didn’t see it as a competition, though. I always have the same objective—to reach the audience and make them feel something. It’s a performance for me, whether or not I’m competing for a prize or a job.” This May, he is bass soloist in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, with the Cecilia Chorus of New York at Carnegie Hall.
Courville’s facility with the Caïd aria is easier to understand when you hear his backstory. He is from Cecilia, a small town in southwest Louisiana, near Lafayette. “I grew up on the banks of the bayou,” he says. “I’m Cajun. We all spoke French.” He was a prodigy who began piano and organ studies at eight, became his church’s organist at twelve and was directing the choir not long after that. After hearing a Russian touring company perform Lucia di Lammermoor, he began voice lessons as well. He studied at Loyola University. His progress was slow and steady; after he left Loyola, he took a break from singing, and his voice grew exponentially. “When I went back to it, this booming voice came out,” he says. When he was twenty-seven, he felt ready to audition for Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts. “No stress, no pressure. I had kind of percolated a bit, and when I auditioned for AVA, I didn’t have any bad vocal habits. I think so many singers force themselves to grow vocally, try to force that maturation process.” He’s in his third year at AVA, a student of William Schuman.
Courville’s dream role was always the Gounod Méphistophélès, which he recently sang at AVA. “Norman Treigle went to Loyola,” he says, “and we’re compared a lot, because we’re the same size—slender—with big bass voices. Every time I sing in New Orleans, these old ladies come up and tell me I look like Norman Treigle!”