Dan Wang

  • Assistant Professor


European opera since 1750; film and film music; Asian American poetics and theory; melodrama; genre studies; popular culture; affect theory; political theory.


Broadly speaking, my work focuses on aesthetic components of personhood in the modern West. I am interested in the history of forms, genres, affects, and rhythms that have constituted what a self feels like in (centrally) Europe and the United States. “Aesthetic” refers to cultural products like operas and movies, but it also refers to the genres and forms that organize and make sense of ordinary life. A lot of my method involves looking at narrative musical works (i.e. opera, film) as imprints or codifications of shapes and gestures that try to get at what something might have felt like in a certain historical moment.

As a result, I have focused on the "scene" as an aesthetic container in which abstract humanist concepts (for example, self-determination, empathy, love) can be represented in a fantasized zone of contact whose scale is visceral, bodily and intimate. But the scene can work in a variety of genres: different aspects of my work explore scenic thinking in relation to romantic love, political transformation, or the aspiration to the presence of “living in the moment.” These constitute an archive of normative sensations that promise to deliver the saturated experience of being alive. As a musicologist and cultural theorist, I’m interested in how popular culture renders these experiences as aesthetic rhythm in genres like the romantic comedy and the political melodrama, and their predecessors (such as Italian comic opera). The aim is to show how the poetics of film image and form, and the aesthetic structure of operatic and film music, can tell us what it has taken to feel like a person in the cultures of the West.

I've written about 19th-century stage melodrama, speeches in Hollywood film, Wagner and addiction, sentimentality and politics, Asian American aesthetics in the public sphere, and Colin Firth movies, among other things. Teaching at Pitt since 2018.

Current Courses

Critical Theories of Gender and Music (graduate, fall 2018)


“The Voice of Feeling: Liberal Subjects, Music, and the Cinematic Speech.” Oxford Handbook of Voice Studies, ed. Nina Sun Eidsheim and Katherine L. Meizel (in preparation).

“Melodrama, Two Ways.” 19th-Century Music, Vol 36 No. 2 (Fall 2012), pp. 122-35.

Recent/Upcoming Talks

2018 “What is an Asian American Style? Superorganism in the Assimilated Public.” Music of Asian America: History, Activism, and Collaborations. University of Pennsylvania, November 9-11

2018 “The Timing of Liberal Political Fantasy (Some Textures from Opera and Film).” AMS/SMT Annual Meeting. San Antonio, TX, November 1-4

2018 Invited talk. “The Erotics of Fictional Worlds.” Opera Through the Eyes of Film. Neubauer Collegium, Chicago, IL, May 9-10       

2017 With Chaz Lee. “Yellowdrama: Traumatic Identity and the Model Melodramatist.” Trauma & Melodrama: Emotions in the Public Sphere. University of Chicago, April 21-22

2016 With Kirsten Paige. Co-panel organizer and co-chair, “Opera and Character.” 19th Biennial International Conference on Nineteenth-Century Music. Merton College, Oxford University, July 11-13

2016 Invited talk. Panel, “On the Subject of Hearing: Audio, Identification, Address.” Society for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference. Atlanta, GA, March 30 – April 3

2016 “Three Speeches by Colin Firth.” EZ Music Conference. University of California, Berkeley, March 11-13

2014 “Skepticism’s Moods.” Sound and Affect: Voice, Music, World. Stony Brook University, April 18-19

2013 “Variations on Cinematic Love.” Midwest Graduate Music Consortium. University of Chicago, April 12-13

2012 “Cinema, Liveness, and the Limits of Criticism.” Opera and Cinema: The Politics of an Encounter. Universidade Nova de Lisboa, November 9-10

2011 “Tennyson’s Ambivalence, Strauss’s Revision: The Tale of Enoch Arden.” Counterpoints: Nineteenth-Century Music and Literature. Fordham University, October 22-23

Education & Training

  • PhD in Music History and Theory, University of Chicago, 2017
  • MA in Musicology, University of Western Ontario, 2010
  • BMus in Piano Performance, University of Western Ontario, 2008

Faculty Groupings

Core Faculty

Main Department Affliliation

Assistant Professor