Faculty & Guest Artists

Course Instructors


Charles Conwell

Instructor in Stage Combat

In addition to teaching stage combat for The Academy of Vocal Arts, Charles Conwell is an associate professor at The University of the Arts where he teaches stage combat, script analysis, and directing. A certified member of the Society of American Fight Directors, he has directed violence for every professional theater company in Philadelphia as well as for the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the Curtis Institute of Music. Mr. Conwell is also frequently employed at the Hartford Stage Company in Connecticut, where he directed the fencing match for Hamlet starring Richard Thomas in the title role. In 1993 he staged the combat scenes for the Metropolitan Opera’s premiere of I Lombardi, directed by Mark Lamos.


Debra DeVries

Instructor in English as a Second Language

Debra DeVries holds a graduate degree in international business from the University of Michigan and has had a career in management in international corporate finance. Ms. DeVries received her Cambridge University certification in ESL instruction in Edinburgh, Scotland, and has taught English as a second language in Europe and the U.S. She has taught English at the Academy of Vocal Arts since 2001.


Thor Eckert

Professional Development Coach

Author and opera consultant Thor Eckert has been professional development coach at the Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA) in Philadelphia, since September, 2006. He is also the “voice” of AVA on up to six broadcasts a year for radio station WRTI in Philadelphia.
For 19 years Mr. Eckert was a regular guest on, as well as guest quizmaster for, the popular Opera Quiz intermission feature of the Toll Brothers/Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network broadcasts. For 15 years he served as chief music critic of The Christian Science Monitor. In 1983, he was given the Headliner Award for “consistently outstanding special column.” In addition to his work for the Monitor, he contributed cover stories and other feature articles for such publications as Opera News, Opera, Opera Quarterly, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Business Week. He was also a regular contributor for a number of record and CD magazines, and was North American editor for Classical CD.
In 1994, he opened his own artists management office for opera singers. After 10 years as a manager, he decided to close the office and focus his activities on consulting with young singers who are at the very beginning of their professional careers.
For WWFM in West Windsor, NJ, he spent three years hosting La Scala live broadcasts for the WWFM Sunday Opera.
Mr. Eckert has been invited to serve on numerous judging panels, including the George London Voice Competition, the Greater Buffalo Opera International Competition, the Opera Index Competition, and the Richard Tucker Music Foundation (RTMF), for which he also served as chairman of the Juries and Awards committee and continues to serve as a board member.



Valentín Fernández

Instructor in Spanish

A graduate of the University of Puerto Rico and The Academy of Vocal Arts, Valentín Fernández is included in the book 150 Years of Zarzuela in Puerto Rico and Cuba. Besides singing the premieres of several works by Puerto Rican and Cuban composers, he has an extensive song repertoire. Mr. Fernández is also an experienced translator, diction coach and Spanish instructor. He has served as a bilingual/bicultural consultant for several organizations.



Lisa Lovelace

Instructor in Stage Movement and Dance

Lisa Lovelace received her Master of Fine Arts in Choreography and Performance from Temple University. In her seventeen years as a professional dancer, teacher, and choreographer in the Philadelphia area, Ms. Lovelace has traveled the world with her husband, internationally acclaimed opera tenor, Richard Troxell (AVA class of ’92). As an independent choreographer, she has performed all over Philadelphia and the five-county region. Ms. Lovelace collaborates with opera singers and performs extensively with children of all ages. She is currently on the faculty at West Chester University and has been a guest artist at Eastern College and St Joseph’s University, where she has been commissioned to create dances, hold workshops, and conduct master classes. Formerly a member of Dance Conduit, Danceteller, and co-director of Sacred Ways Dance Company, Ms. Lovelace is in her eighteenth year teaching modern technique at Feet First Dance Studio.



Nic Muni

Instructor in Acting and Stage Technique

Nic Muni has directed over two hundred productions in Europe, Australia and North America with companies such as San Francisco Opera, New York City Opera, Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, Houston Grand Opera, Seattle Opera, Los Angeles Opera, the Glimmerglass Festival, and the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. In Europe he has directed for the Prague National Opera, the Kurt Weill International Festival, Theater Erfurt, Tiroler Landestheater Innsbruck, Stadttheater Bern and Stadttheater Giessen. His revival of Jenůfa at the Canadian Opera Company in 2003 received Canada’s prestigious DORA award for best theater production of the year. In addition, he has served as Artistic Director for the Tulsa Opera (1987-93) and Cincinnati Opera (1996-2005). Recent productions: U.S.stage premiere of Das Liebesverbot at Glimmerglass Opera; L’amico Fritz and La finta giardiniera at San Francisco Opera Merola; Carmen at Boston Lyric Opera; Il ballo delle ingrate/Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda/Trouble in Tahiti at Portland Opera; Il barbiere di Siviglia at Indiana University; Cendrillon at Miami University; Cardillac at Opera Boston; U.S. Stage premiere of El Amor Brujo/La Vida Breve at Manhattan School of Music; Don Giovanni at Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM); and L’elisir d’amore at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.

Formerly Artist-in-Residence and Professor of Opera at Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), he now teaches Stagecraft at the Academy of Vocal Arts and at Bard Conservatory of Music in the Vocal Arts Program.



Bob Rowland

Opera History

Bob Rowland is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, the Peabody Conservatory and the Academy of Vocal Arts.  As a master’s candidate at Peabody, he was a student of the late Wayne Conner, who developed the History curriculum at AVA.  Mr. Rowland has lectured on opera at over a dozen local institutions including the Curtis Institute, and has been a long time presenter of the Opera Digest at AVA’s Bucks County performances. He returned to the AVA classroom in 2011.



Robert Thayer Sataloff, M.D., D.M.A.

Head of Voice Science Department

Dr. Robert Sataloff is a graduate of Haverford College with a degree in music theory and composition; the Jefferson Medical College, the Otorhinolaryngology Residency and Neurotology Fellowship of the University of Michigan; and Combs College of Music (D.M.A. in Voice). Currently, Dr. Sataloff is professor of otolaryngology at Jefferson Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University; adjunct professor in the department of otolaryngology at the University of Pennsylvania and at Georgetown University; chairman of the department of otolaryngology at Graduate Hospital; chairman of The Voice Foundation; and chairman of the American Institute for Voice and Ear Research. He is also on the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music.

Dr. Sataloff is the author of more than five hundred publications, including twenty-three textbooks, and has lectured extensively on the voice throughout the world. He is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Voice and on the editorial boards of the Journal of Singing, Ear Nose and Throat Journal, and numerous other professional publications. Dr. Sataloff has also served as conductor of the Thomas Jefferson University Choir since 1970. He adds a special dimension to the AVA faculty as the only otolaryngologist in the United States who is a fully trained professional singer, voice teacher, and conductor.


Gudrun von Auenmueller

Instructor in German

Schooled in Cologne, Germany, Gudrun von Auenmueller has taught German for over 20 years at several continuing education institutions to beginners, intermediate and advanced adult students, as well as at a private language learning center in New Jersey.

Upon moving to Philadelphia, she was offered a position as German teacher at a Waldorf School, where she taught 1st through 8th graders, including designing individual curricula for all grades. In the fall of 2012, she accepted the position of German language teacher at AVA.


Ennio Brugnolo

Instructor in Italian

Ennio Brugnolo is a native of Rome. While studying architecture, he frequented the Accademia Vocale Tito Schipa in Rome and studied voice with Maestro Antonio Cappello. In 1960, he was singing in the Coro Polifonico Romano. By 1962, he started to appear in comprimario roles in various Italian theaters located in Siena, Spoleto, Lucca, Cosenza, Marsala, Modena, Bologna, Cagliari and Rome with singers like Tebaldi, Scotto, Stella, Gencer, Freni, Simionato, Cossotto, Nilsson, Moffo, Del Monaco, Di Stefano, Bergonzi, Luchetti, Pavarotti, Corelli, Siepi, Ghiaurov, among many others. He had the opportunity to sing with maestros like Muti, Giulini, Molinari-Pradelli, Savallisch and, more recently, Rattle and Dutoit.

He attended a “Corso di Perfezionamento” under the tutelage of Piero Cappuccilli. After moving to Philadelphia in 1970, he joined the Phialdelphia Opera Chorus and pursued a career as a Construction Manager initially with Temple University. During that period of time he continued to take private vocal coaching with Nicola Moscona at AVA. He joined the Philadelphia Singers with Michael Korn in the early 1980’s. He continues to sing occasionally in the chorus of the Philadelphia Opera Company. In the last few years he has been teaching Italian language and opera appreciation courses for adults in NJ schools, and recently joined the faculty of AVA in January 2014.