Simply casting an opera “diversely” does not address the underlying and continuing white-washing and erasure of performing artists of East and Southeast Asian heritage (ESEAs).
Throughout history, ESEAs in the West have consistently been ignored, erased and excluded from participating in the telling of our own stories and narratives on stage. Whilst ESEA representation has progressed across other art forms, the damaging practice of Yellowface - the use of dialect, makeup, posture and costuming by non-Asian actors to portray Asians - is still widespread across opera.
Finding a way to produce a work like Turandot using a predominantly ESEA cast and crew to improve the work’s cultural understanding, and removing the offensive and racist perceptions of Asians should be a basic requirement for someone like the Royal Opera House, rather than dressing up many non-ESEA singers in masks to make them look ‘Oriental’ - a clear example of Yellowface (pictured).
There are plenty of high quality ESEA opera singers across the UK and Europe who can be cast in operas set in Asia, so availability is not an excuse. Further, the stories that are being told across the opera canon need to be interrogated more deeply. We do not advocate banishing the classic opera works, but these works should be undertaken with understanding, cultural awareness and sensitivity. It is not enough to say these works are being cast diversely - that betrays a shallow disregard for ESEA heritage and representation.
We urge the Royal Opera House to stop dehumanising East & South-East Asian people through their productions, and to create new theatre which is fit for purpose and suitable for current and future generations to enjoy.
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