For centuries opera companies have mesmerized audiences with their elaborately costumed and made-up characters and the pageantry of their productions combining music and voice with dance and gesture. Because of its venerable tradition, many of the operas have historical and military themes, which are still performed today. As in the past, the emphasis in these productions is not on scenery or props but on the elaborate costumes and makeup worn by the leading characters, who display a variety of acting styles, and the best known are the Peking, the Cantonese, and Shanghai's Yue Operas, which are featured in this photographic book. Jessica Tan Gudnason's stunning portraits look more like painted sculptures than photographs. Her images were taken over a ten-year period during which she frequented Peking, Cantonese, and Yue opera productions, capturing many different actors in all stages of preparation for leading and supporting roles or fully dressed for the performance. Some of the remarkable characters she presents include a gorgeously costumed female warrior wearing peacock feathers in her headdress and state flags in her voluminous costume; a clown made up to look like a monkey, who, according to Buddhist legend, accompanied his master on a quest for self-knowledge; a heavily made-up male warrior wearing an intricately embroidered red coat and carved headdress; a close-up of a beautiful woman wearing an elaborate head piece adorned with flowers and jewels, indicating her high rank; and boys transforming themselves into costumed and made-up performers. Gudnason's aim is to recreate the excitement, emotion, sound, color, and movement of the actor's backstage from an insider's view. Supplementing the photographs is an insightful text by actress Gong Li as she comments on these powerful photographs and their significance. The authors provide background information about the Peking, Cantonese, and Yue opera companies, the plays, and the major character types depicted here. This unique book is ideal for collectors of exceptional photography and for anyone who loves opera, music, and theater.
by: Jessica Tan Gudnason