More than Men in Drag : gender, sexuality, and the falsetto in musical comedy of Western civilization

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Bradley K Fugate (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Carla Lefevre

Abstract: "Throughout history the socially constructed concepts of gender and sexual desire have played a vital role in the inter-connectedness of human cultures. Nowhere is this more evident than in the performing and visual arts, which act as a looking glass for society as a whole. Within the realm of theater alone, one finds ample representation of gender and sex norms. The genre of comedy casts incisive light on societal norms due to the unwritten license of the author and actors to comment subversively on matters that would otherwise be taboo. In musical comedy the issue of the male singing in his falsetto-a mature male singing in a female's range-inherently problematizes gender. It magnifies the intrinsic differences between masculine and feminine while simultaneously referring to the norms of a society. This study parallels the history of the comic falsetto-singing male in Western culture with the history of gender and sexuality in order to see the relationship that exists between them. The use and appreciation of the comic falsettist, or lack thereof, has typically been a direct reflection of a culture's attitude toward gender and sexuality. This paper provides representative examples of repertoire for the comic falsettist from different time periods and interprets them contextually within their respective cultures. Examples from a play by Aristophanes and from a Baroque intermezzo exemplify the predominantly patriarcal society in which women and men with same-sex desire existed in the pre-modern age. A discussion of the absence of the male falsettist in the 18th and 19th centuries explores the relationship between this voice type, the beginnings of sexual identity, and a more rigid concept of gender roles. Finally, there is a discussion of several comic falsetto roles, written in the 20th and 21st centuries, which mirror the evolution of Western culture's views toward gender and sexuality since 1900."--Abstract from author supplied metadata.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2006
social constructs, gender, sexual desire, cultures, performing, visual arts, theater, taboo, musical comedy, falsetto
Musical theater--History and criticism
Gender identity in music
Acting in musical theater
Male singers
Vocal registers

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