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17th February, 2021

Virtuosity and Musical Theatre


Event Details

17th February, 2021
18:30 - 19:30

In The Importance of Being Earnest, Algernon declares, ‘I don’t play accurately – anyone can play accurately – but I play with wonderful expression’. In saying so, he announces himself as a virtuoso.

Sometimes virtuosity is understood as an admirably outstanding level of skill. But at others, musical virtuosity is deprecated as self-advertising technical showiness that detracts from the music being played, the song being sung, a tawdry kind of pleasure that, in the words of Romain Rolland, is ‘fatal to art and to the soul’. In musical theatre, where performers have to be the ‘triple threat’, showing excellence in acting, dancing, and singing, this excessive display of skill would seem to be a constant danger.

But here’s a confession: for me, virtuosity produces some of the musical’s most intense, ecstatic pleasures. In this paper, I want to consider whether we might recuperate virtuosity in the musical as one of its artistic and political values. In this illustrated talk I will consider virtuosity as a ‘limit case’ that usefully complicates the standard history of the musical, touching on narrative integration, aesthetic autonomy, utopianism, excess, failure, and tap dancing.

Speaker: Dan Rebellato

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