The second article that got me in trouble was a review of Opera McGill‘s production of Alcina this past Fall. The review, “Orientalism is no magic,” takes issue with the production’s use of yellowface — makeup, costumes, and set design appropriated from Asian cultures by white directors and designers, worn by white singers, and performed for the entertainment of a predominantly white audience.
Unlike the Don Giovanni interview, this article was 100% written by me, and I stand by it 100%. The review was a joint project meant to accompany “An open letter to Opera McGill” by Sarah Shin-Wong, a recording engineer who worked behind the scenes on the production, and whose perspective as a student of colour sheds vital light on why, exactly, the Alcina production was so infuriating:
Yellowface is when a non-Asian person wears makeup and/or costumes to look what they think is “Asian.” Thus, the entire 2016 principal cast of Alcina was performing yellowface.
It is offensive because essentially it is wearing ethnicities as a costume. It homogenizes, exotifies, and objectifies various Asian cultures and puts them under the umbrella of “Orientalism.” It dehumanizes Asian people and makes Asian cultures a superficial trend or aesthetic. In addition, it propagates inaccurate stereotypes and derogatory caricatures. It can be likened to blackface.