Inspiring Minds seeks to broaden awareness and impact of graduate student research, while enhancing transferable skills. Students were challenged to describe their research, scholarship or creative activity in 150 or fewer words to share with our community.

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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. My research explores twentieth-century 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 these medicalized 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.

Diana Wu
PhD candidate - Musicology
Don Wright Faculty of Music - Western University

Dr. Emily Ansari

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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.

You can connect with her on her personal web page at

View Diana's work as it appears in the Inspiring Minds Digital Collection.

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