Opera singer André Courville is admittedly gangly. His celebrated voice is anything but. By Walter Pierce

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Acadiana has long been a wellspring of world-class musicians — in zydeco and Cajun, rock ’n’ roll, swamp pop, country and blues. But opera? Eh, not so much.
Enter André Courville. The 25-year-old valedictorian of Cecilia High School’s class of 2004 is a hot property in an art form that is so competitive, so hard to break into, that few ascend to its dizzying, oxygen-bare summit. Courville is making the trek. His sherpa, a dazzlingly clear and strong bass-baritone voice.

Courville recently took top prize in the Metropolitan Opera National Council’s district (New Orleans-Shreveport-Mobile) competition and second place in the regional (Gulf Coast region and Puerto Rico) competition. For 60 years the Met National Council has conducted such regional auditions to find America’s most talented opera singers and help develop them into world-class voices. Think of it as Major League Baseball’s farm system for vocal artists. Courville was hailed by judges for his fearless style and “magnetic stage presence.” Roughly 1,500 singers from across the country compete annually. André Courville rose with the cream to the top.

“It’s really a big honor for me,” Courville says. “Many of the world’s foremost singers, among them Renée Fleming, Jessye Norman, Samuel Ramey and Deborah Voigt have received awards from the National Council.”

When he isn’t traveling the world for performances, auditions and study, Courville serves as the music director and organist at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Lafayette, a job he says suits him perfectly. “It gives me the flexibility I need to travel around the world to perform and audition,” says Courville, who began studying voice as a freshman in high school before going on to major in vocal performance at Loyola University in New Orleans.

Even before high school, Courville’s extraordinary musical gifts were already on display.

“I heard him conducting the church choir in Henderson when he was only 12 years old and I was amazed,” says Geraldine Hubbell, Courville’s voice coach and a member of the Executive Committee of the Acadiana Symphony, a group with which both she and Courville routinely perform.

A Met National Council award not only looks great on a résumé, it often opens the curtain to the most prestigious opera stages in the world, especially for a singer in Courville’s vocal range, which comprises more select company.

“I was very pleased to place so high. It’s not as common for a bass-baritone to place above sopranos and tenors,” he admits. “I was overwhelmed by all the people who came up to me after the competition. People were shocked that a big bass sound could come out of a thin guy like me.”

For the record, Courville is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds or, as a middle-aged guy battling the bulge would say, a lucky SOB who better enjoy it while it lasts.

“André is blessed with a special talent in many areas of music — singing, piano and organ, church music, conducting and opera,” gushes vocal coach Hubbell.

Photo by Danny Izzo

But opera is so much more than merely carrying a tune, albeit an incredibly complex, challenging tune that makes “The Star-Spangled Banner” sound like a nursery rhyme; it takes acting chops, too, and a proficiency in foreign languages — Italian principally, but French and German as well. Courville says he learned a crucial aspect of his craft whole working in New York City with world-renowned soprano Martina Arroyo.

“Ms. Arroyo taught me the invaluable lesson that a great opera performer puts just as much energy into acting as they do into singing,” he says. “I practice [voice] every day, but I also devote countless hours to character development and role preparation.”

Between now and achieving opera stardom, Courville can be heard and seen at 7:30 p.m. April 20 when he performs Beethoven’s Mass in C at Fatima with Chorale Acadienne. He will also perform the role of Don Aflonso in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte in July in NYC and the title role in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro in Vancouver in August.
In the meantime, you can catch André Courville on Sundays behind the organ at Fatima. If his musicianship doesn’t do you some good, the Mass probably will.

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