The Haunting of AVA

As Halloween rounds the corner, the city of Philadelphia is coming alive — bright orange, elaborately carved pumpkins sit out on stoops; spooky decorations hang in front yards and adorn the streets; and store aisles boast an enticing selection of candy corn and other sugary treats. A feeling of magic and spookiness pervades the air.

But here at AVA, that feeling is nothing new. Our building on 1920 Spruce Street, built 150 years ago, is the permanent dwelling place of the ghost of Randolph Wood, who owned and resided in the building in the 1870s. Depressed by serious financial losses, Mr. Wood sadly died by suicide here, on the third floor, during the financial crisis known as the Panic of 1873. His spirit has allegedly been haunting the building ever since.


Our resident ghost has signaled his presence to AVA staff, faculty and students over the years. AVA’s President and Artistic Director, Kevin McDowell, vividly recalls a creepy interaction with him  in the late 1980s. “I stopped by AVA one night on my way home, around 2 a.m. I remember going up to the third floor, getting to the landing and suddenly feeling chills and my hair standing up—I had a strange, eerie feeling that something was there.”

Mr. McDowell is not the only one to have discerned the spirit’s presence on the upper floors of AVA. Master vocal coach Richard Raub, who has been teaching at AVA for 35 years, was once interrupted by the ghost during a coaching session. “I was up in my studio working with a student and I became aware of this big sphere of energy that came into the room,” explains Mr. Raub. “It was invisible, but I could perceive it. My student was a tenor and all of a sudden he felt all tight and couldn’t sing anymore. I slammed down the piano lid and as soon as I got up the ‘thing’ just vanished. I went into the hall screaming after it to get out!”

Both Mr. McDowell and Mr. Raub’s experiences with the ghostly entity date back to before the year 1996, when the room where Mr. Wood passed away was renovated and turned into a library. Mr. McDowell maintains that those renovations led to the ghost’s retreat from AVA. “By converting what we call the ‘ghost room’, which consisted of two rooms, a closet and a bathroom on the third floor in the rear, we think we drove the ghost away,” he says. Mr. Raub agrees: “When the library and bathrooms on that floor were being renovated, there were workers in here all summer long. I think that’s when the ghost decided to pick up and move on.”

However, Resident Artists and staff members claim to have encountered the ghost since then. Mezzo-soprano Hannah Ludwig, who graduated from AVA last May, says she often became aware of the ghost’s presence in the evenings, when she was working the front desk and preparing to lock up the building for the night. She describes a particularly horrifying experience that took place during her third year: “I was alone in the building and the lights were off. I was coming up the stairs and I heard the chuckle of a male voice. I freaked out and yelled …and I heard it again. To be honest, that’s why I didn’t want to be on desk duty my fourth year.”

AVA’s PR and Communications Manager, Camille Mola, attests to the fact that the ghost is still very much around. She recounts of a mysterious episode last year: “One performance night last season I was sitting in the lobby with a colleague. Everyone was in the theatre, there was no one around. And all of a sudden, the lobby lights went out. I got up and I saw that the light switch in the hall, which is pretty hard to push down, had been switched off.”


By now, longstanding members of AVA have grown accustomed to the ghost’s mischievous behavior—the ghost has been playing tricks on people since Maestro Christofer Macatsoris first became Music Director of AVA in 1977. Maestro recollects an experience with the ghost from his early years at AVA—perhaps the most bizarre and frightening of them all. One evening, after being the last person to leave the building, Maestro returned upon realizing he had forgotten his sunglasses. “When I came back in, the lights wouldn’t turn on and I heard orchestral music coming from upstairs,” he recalls. “My friends and I called the police. We discovered a boom box on the fourth floor and when we came downstairs we heard the sounds of a typewriter coming from what is currently my office. The police walked toward my office and as soon as we stepped in, the sounds stopped. We left, and it started again. This is all on the police report.”

Whether or not you believe in ghosts, the uncanny events that have occurred over the years along AVA’s corridors make it hard to deny that something spooky is lurking in the shadows of 1920 Spruce Street. We respect the spirit of Mr. Wood, and we can only hope he enjoys the beautiful music made here at AVA.

Happy Halloween from all of us here at AVA!

Written by Tania Bagan



AVA Alumni Around the World, October 2017 Edition

The distinguished alumni of the Academy of Vocal Arts have taken the world by storm! Let’s take a look at the many concerts, festivals, and opera debuts our alumni have coming up around the world. Check below for recent and upcoming engagements:

Tenor Bryan Hymel is singing in Les Vêpres sicilennes at the Royal Opera House this fall. Bryan also recently joined the Board of the Academy of Vocal Arts – welcome Bryan!

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Baritone Michael Adams will continue his role as Marcello in La bohème at the Utah Opera until October 15, 2017. This was his debut with Utah Opera.


Soprano Angela Meade and AVA Resident Artist tenor John Matthew Myers performed with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra this past weekend. Click here to read their wonderful reviews!

Angela also sings the title role in Alcina with the Washington National Opera through November. Additionally, she will be singing the title role in Norma at the Metropolitan Opera for the first half of December.

Soprano Angela Meade and tenor John Matthew Myers

(Photo Credit: Allentown Symphony Association) The Morning Call

Tenor Michael Fabiano  will be singing the role of Chevalier des Grieux in Manon at the San Francisco Opera starting November 4. He also will be starring in Rigoletto as the Duke of Mantua at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

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You might recognize that familiar face, who graced the September cover of Opera News -soprano Ailyn Pèrez! Her upcoming performances include singing the title role in Thaïs and Countless Almaviva in Le nozze di Fiagro, both at the Metropolitan Opera.

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(Photo Credit: Opera News)

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato will sing the role of Adalgisa in Norma at the Metropolitan Opera through October 20. She also will be singing the title role in Semiramide at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in November and early December.

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Soprano Marina Costa-Jackson will be singing the role of Violetta in La traviata at the Oper Köln through December 3.

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Three AVA alumni star together in the English National Opera’s production of Aida: soprano Latonia Moore, mezzo-soprano Dana Beth Miller and baritone Musa Ngqungwana.

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(Photo Credit: © Tristram Kenton)

Mezzo-Soprano Allegra De Vita will be seen at Washington National Opera’s production of Handel’s Alcina as Ruggiero on November 18 and as The Fox in The Little Prince in December.


Tenor Stephen Costello will be singing the role of Rodolfo in La bohème starting in late October to early November at Semperoper Dresden in Germany. He also will be singing the role of Camille in The Merry Widow at Opéra National de Paris through October 21.

Another cover star! Soprano Joyce El-Khoury was on the October cover of Classical Singer Magazine (below). She recently sang the role of Musetta in La bohème at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and will perform in Il Pirata as Imogene with Opéra National de Bordeaux this November.

Joyce El-Khoury Cover

Baritone John Viscardi will be singing the role in Cyrano at Opera Carolina in November.


Bass Scott Connor will continue his run at the Dutch National Opera singing the roles of Nerbulone and Tigerne in Egliogabalo through October 26.

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It is never our intention to omit any AVA alumni. If you notice any discrepancies, please contact

Madison Miner is a senior Communications major at West Chester University, and an intern in AVA’s Marketing Department.

Past Giargiari Winners: Where are they now?

Not too long now until AVA’s annual Giargiari Bel Canto Competition! Today, we’re taking a look back at the most recent winners, who have gone on to do incredible things in the opera world. Here is what the four most recent Giargiari winners are doing now:


Giargari’s 2013 winner, tenor Diego Silva, has kept busy since graduating AVA. His recent engagements include singing the roles of the Duke in Rigoletto with the Luzerner Theater and debuting with the Vilnius City Opera in Faust (Faust), the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. At AVA, Diego sang the role of Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore, as well as the title role in Faust.

This season, Silva returns to the Luzerner Theater for productions of La traviata (Alfredo), Falstaff (Fenton), Die Zauberflöte (Tamino), and a new production of Jules Massenet’s Manon (Des Grieux). He will additionally return to Vilnius City Opera as the title role in Faust and make his debut with Opéra-Théâtre de Metz Métropole as Rodolfo in La bohème. Opera News claims, “this is a career to follow.”


André Courville, bass-baritone, was Giargiari’s 2014 winner! This summer, André sang in many engagements including in Placido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition, the role of Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro and was a Bass soloist in the Great Mass. 

At AVA, André’s roles have included Monterone in Rigoletto, Archibaldo in L’amore dei tre re, Leporello in Don Giovanni, and Méphistophélés in Faust, among others. Keep an eye on André, he is sure to do extraordinary things in the future!


In 2015, fourth-year Resident Artist, Vanessa Vasquez, soprano, took home the coveted James Parkinson Opera Foundation First Prize, as well as the Audience Favorite Prize. Vanessa’s recent achievements include being the National Winner in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2017 and Top Prize in the Gerda Lissner Foundation Competition, also in 2017.

At AVA, Vanessa sang the roles of Gilda in Rigoletto, Giorgetta in  Il tabarro, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, and Mimì in La bohème. Previous roles include La Contessa in Le nozze di Figaro with Oberlin in Italy, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni with Opera UCLA and Desdemona in Otello (in concert) with the Astoria Music Festival. Vanessa will be performing throughout AVA’s 2017-2018 season, you don’t want to miss her!


Last year’s winner, Alasdair Kent, has been hard at work since graduating. His recent performances include singing the roles of Giocondo in Rossini’s La pietra del paragone at Wolf Trap Opera, Il cavaliere Belfiore in Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims in Pesaro, Italy, and Don Ramiro in Rossini’s La Cenerentola in Portland, Oregon. At AVA, Alasdair performed the roles of Page is Rigoletto, Lindoro in L’italiana in Algeri, Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni and Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi.

Upcoming roles of his include Lindoro in Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri in both Toulon and Montpellier, France and Budapest, Hungry, and Third Angel/John in Benjamin’s Written on Skin with Opera Philadelphia. We are very excited to see what else Alasdair has in store!

We hope to see you at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater for this years Giargiari Bel Canto Competition on Saturday, October 7 at 7:30 pm. Hear and vote for this year’s winner before they take the opera world by storm!

Tickets are still available! They can be purchased via the Kimmel Center website or by calling their box office at 215-893-1999.

We look forward to seeing you!


Written by AVA Marketing Intern Madison Miner









Meet AVA Marketing Intern Madison!

Madison Miner is a senior studying Communications at West Chester University, hoping to pursue Public Relations after graduation. She is interning this fall for AVA as the Marketing and Public Relations Intern. Madison is not only looking forward to the experience she will gain, but the excellent vocal performances she is sure to hear. She is very excited to join our team!