Gina Bombola (PhD ’17) has been awarded the Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award of the University of North Carolina for her dissertation “Can’t Help Singing: The Modern ‘Opera’ Diva in Hollywood Film, 1930–1955.” The honor “highlights original and innovative work” across the university.
Gina’s dissertation examines Hollywood’s presentation and marketing of female operatic singers during two periods of economic and political crisis: the Great Depression and World War II. Tapping into shifting cultural concerns, the film industry, Gina argues, reframed opera as less of a European theatrical art performed in elite venues and more of a democratic—albeit still white—musical tradition that could be sung by talented individuals in any locale. Her research therefore shows how Hollywood helped change what the term “opera” meant, and continues to mean today, in American culture.
Gina was, as she explains, “deeply honored to receive the Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award. Much credit, however, goes to the people who helped make this project happen. My dissertation came together, piece by piece, during my weekly conversations with my advisor, with helpful feedback from my dissertation committee, and the support of my colleagues in the Music Department.” David Garcia, Director of Graduate Studies, says “Gina’s dissertation nomination competed with nominations from programs in Mathematics, Physical Sciences & Engineering, Biological & Life Sciences, and Social Sciences as well as Humanities & Fine Arts. Her dissertation’s selection is truly a marker of her scholarly excellence.”