Diana Wu

PhD Candidate
Office: TC 329
Email: dwu328@uwo.ca

Diana Wu is a PhD candidate in musicology at Western University. She is the 2021 recipient of the Robert Walser and Susan McClary Fellowship from the Society of American Music, which supports her research on madness and mad scenes in later twentieth-century anglophone opera. She also works on musical theater representations of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. Originally hailing from the United States, she holds a master's degree from CUNY: Queens College, and a Bachelor of Arts from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, both in music theory. Her master's thesis was titled The Sound of the Insurmountable: Harmonic Opposition and Melodic Foreshadowing in Gian-Carlo Menotti's The Consul.

Current Research Projects:

1. The Ghosts of Madwomen Past: Historical and Psychiatric Madness on the Late Twentieth-Century Opera Stage


Insanity has been important to opera since the beginning of opera. For four hundred years, operas have featured characters driven mad by love, jealousy, and shame. Some of these characters are among opera’s most famous, and are still performed today. Over the past four centuries, though, cultural understandings of what it means to be insane have changed many times. This dissertation project explores nine twentieth-century British and American operas with mad characters. In these operas, modern understandings of insanity and mental illness contend with a centuries-old heritage of operatic and theatrical madness. These characters still sing long, dramatic arias like their predecessors, but also show symptoms of twentieth-century diagnoses, such as schizophrenia, agoraphobia, and alcoholism. Opera composers are not doctors, so thesemedicalized portrayals of madness demonstrate the growing centrality of medical perspectives to insanity as a concept, and provide insight into how people outside the medical field understand madness in the twentieth century.

This dissertation is divided into four chapters, each of which deals with a specific convergence of medical thought and operatic imagination. Chapter One “The Medical Model,” lays the foundation for later chapters in its discussion of the rising dominance of the medical model in British and American culture, and the consequent structural shift in the dramatic function of operatic madness. Chapter Two, “Hearing Voices,” turns to a specific sonic aspect of twentieth century mad opera: the prominent featuring of disembodied voices as a fundamental aspect of madness, which I argue can be read as a response to the rising prominence of schizophrenia as a psychiatric diagnosis. Chapter Three, “The Self-confine Protagonist and the Shadow of the Asylum,” explores the symbolic resonance between self-confined operatic protagonists and the involuntary confinement of insane asylums in the context of the de-institutionalization movement of the mid-twentieth century. Chapter Four, “Alcoholism, Degeneracy, and the Spectre of Eugenics,” investigates the processes by which two American operas, The Medium and The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe, collapse alcoholism, madness, and poverty into a single conceptual entity, creating heavily moralized narratives, which demonstrate the hidden legacy of eugenic thinking within American culture.


This research is supported by a 2021 Robert Walser and Susan McClary Fellowship from the Society of American Music (SAM). Chapter Four, “Alcoholism, Degeneracy, and the Spectre of Eugenics,” will be presented in April 2022 at the annual meeting of the Society for American Music (SAM). Chapter Two, “Hearing Voices,” has been presented at the 2020 annual meeting of the American Musicological Society (AMS), and at the online symposium Music, Mediation, and Disability: Representation and Access. It has been accepted for publication and is expected in late 2022

2.  “You Gotta Accentuate the Positive”: Japanese American Affirmation and Resilience in The Camp Dance: The Music and The Memories


In 2003, a small theater company in Los Angeles called Grateful Crane premiered The Camp Dance: The Music and the Memories. This musical revue used hit songs from the 1940s to tell stories of the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans from the perspective of high school-aged prisoners. Told using memories collected from camp survivors, Camp Dance centers its narrative on the dance socials that were an important part of camp life. Camp Dance invites its elderly camp-survivor audience to reclaim memories of their youth. In doing so it preserves and memorializes the unique musical culture of the incarcerated youth, and re-interprets the music of this era through a specific, historicized, Japanese-American lens.

This project explores the transformation of meaning that occurs when contemporaneous American and Japanese popular music is used to memorialize the experience of Japanese American incarceration. Swing music and dance helped young imprisoned Japanese Americans to pass the time, but it was also a means for them to reassert their American identity when their own government had branded them  enemy insurgents. Camp Dance uses swing to honor the resilience of the incarcerated, and to remember the specific experiences of incarcerated teenagers, for whom first-loves, courtship, and coming of age were defined by illegal imprisonment. Camp Dance  continues to honor and preserve the musical practices of young incarcerated Japanese Americans. In so doing, it facilitates the reclamation of American identity and popular music by its camp survivor audience, and thereby creates a space for complex, nostalgic engagement with the memory of camp.


This research has been presented under the title “Internment Camp Swing: Memory, Identity, and Popular Music in Camp Dance” at the 2020 annual meeting of the Society for American Music, and at the 2021 United States chapter meeting of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM). It is currently being prepared for publication as a journal article.


As a teaching assistant, Diana has taught courses across the music history survey, providing large lectures, small group tutorials, and individualized one-on-one guidance to first and second year students, helping them to deepen their understanding of music’s place and function in our culture, and to strengthen their writing skills.

More recently, Diana has also taught upper-year students as limited duty faculty in Western’s 3752A: Topics in Twentieth-Century Opera. In this smaller, seminar-style course, Diana provided context and structure in which the students were encouraged to grapple directly with the challenging philosophical questions posed by twentieth-century opera, fostering a practice of independent inquiry and exploration.

CV for Diana Wu