The Stream

What’s being done to fix opera’s problem with anti-Asian racism?

On Thursday, July 7 at 19:30 GMT:
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly tells the tragic love story of a Japanese girl betrayed by her American naval officer husband. It is a production that at once showcases one of the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful arias in Italian opera and yet the worst stereotypes of Asian women. So how are modern opera companies handling these issues when it comes to developing new productions that won’t turn off audiences in 2022?

More opera companies are having open discussions about improved ways of staging new productions and the role ethnic stereotyping plays in upholding systemic racism. Asian opera artists say the acknowledgement of these issues is particularly important given the climate of increased anti-Asian racism.

But shows built on Orientalist themes continue to be staged with non-Asian artists costumed into Asian roles. Even following a year of consultation on how to respectfully portray Japanese culture, London’s Royal Opera House went ahead with a production of Madama Butterfly with a nearly all-non-Asian cast. Critics say the practice amounts to yellowface and devalues the experiences of opera singers of Asian descent.

In this episode of the Stream, we’ll look at why such practices still persist in modern opera productions and what’s being done about it.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Nina Yoshida Nelsen
Mezzo-soprano and co-founder of the Asian Opera Alliance

Phil Chan, @philschan
Co-founder, Final Bow for Yellowface

Daniel York Loh, @DanielYorkLoh
Associate artistic director, Chinese Arts Now