Academy of Vocal Arts
The Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA) is a school dedicated to providing free higher education to aspiring opera singers. The school was founded in 1934 by Helen Corning Warden and is located at 1920 Spruce Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
During the Great Depression, few people could afford any kind of higher education, especially the long and costly training needed for a career in opera. Recognizing this difficulty, Helen Corning Warden, a prominent member of Philadelphia society, set out to establish a school where talented singers could receive highest quality training without having to suffer the financial burdens that such an education would normally entail. Encouraged by voice teacher Edgar Milton Cooke, Mrs. Warden and a group of her friends set out to establish a school for professional singers that would provide tuition-free education.
For more than six decades, gifted singers have come from throughout the world to seek training. Many current and former teachers, such as Sidney Dietch, Nicola Moscona, Giovanni Consiglio, Louis Quilico, Benita Valente, Nell Rankin, Bill Schuman and William Stone, have had highly successful careers. Admission into AVA's four-year program is highly competitive, with approximately 28 singers enrolled in any given year. Today, AVA is the only tuition-free institution dedicated exclusively to the study of voice.
Helen Corning Warden served as the Academy's chairperson until her death. She was succeeded by her daughter, Adele Warden Paxson, who was followed by her daughter, Sally Paxson Davis. Since 1977, Christofer Macatsoris has held the position of music director. Baritone and 1983 alum K. James McDowell has served as president and artistic director since 1987.
The program of training offered by the Academy of Vocal Arts is centered around one-on-one repertoire coaching with a faculty of conductors and coaches and a weekly voice lesson with one of AVA's esteemed voice instructors. The program also includes French, German and Italian language classes, movement & dance, stagecraft and stage combat classes, history of opera & care of the professional voice seminars, and professional development coaching through private classes and workshops. AVA mounts four operatic productions each year featuring resident artists in leading and supporting roles, produced and directed by visiting professional directors with full orchestra. Additionally, chamber music recitals, a sacred music concert and an annual vocal competition feature in the Academy's season. Resident artists are given opportunities to audition for visiting companies from the US and Europe as well as international agents and managers. The Academy of Vocal Arts is also unique among training institutions in offering all residents merit-based fellowships to help offset the cost of living expenses while attending AVA.
Notable alumni of the school include: Burak Bilgili, Gwendolyn Bradley, Stephen Costello, Joyce DiDonato, Michael Fabiano, Othalie Graham, Bryan Hymel, Eglise Gutiérrez, Angela Meade, Latonia Moore, James Morris, Ailyn Pérez, Seymour Schwartzman, Gregory Stapp, Taylor Stayton, Ruth Ann Swenson, Richard Troxell, James Valenti, Corinne Winters and Beverly Wolff, among many others.
Many AVA alumni have national and international careers as renowned operatic soloists. From 2009 to 2012, every recipient of the Richard Tucker Award was an AVA graduate. Current resident artists have been selected as grand final winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions every year since 2011. Each year since 2012, the Metropolitan Opera's Beverly Sills Award has been awarded to an AVA alumnus.