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The Costume Design and Make-up of Cantonese Opera

There was no rigid convention on early Cantonese operatic costumes, which were primarily an imitation of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) costume design. In late Qing and early 20th Century, since some Cantonese operas were about social reality, actors and actresses also appeared in western style clothing or contemporary costumes. Later, with increasing exchange between the artists of Cantonese and Beijing operas, costume design became heavily influenced by Beijing opera. On the other hand, to attract more audiences, theatrical costumes were made very eye-catching. Sequined and beaded costumes were used. Sometimes, even tiny electric light bulbs were employed so to catch the gaze of the audience.
Today, embroidered theatrical costume becomes the main stream in Cantonese opera. The costume design is largely determined by sex, role, plot, personality, environment and occasion. Costumes are basically classified into python ceremonial robes, armor, gowns with sloping collars, cloaks, official robes, gowns with vertical collars, coats and so on. Each type of costume is matched with a particular headgear, footwear and facial make-up.
As for make-up, artists in very early Cantonese opera were usually very heavily made up with very crude cosmetics. According to the usual practice, all artists in Cantonese opera have to put on their make-up on their own. Each character’s makeup has its own distinct characteristics. For example, a clown figure (the “cau”) usually has a big white spot in the centre of his face. There are five major colors for the makeup in Cantonese opera: red, black, white, blue and yellow. Each colour symbolizes a unique character, for example, red symbolizes bravery; black symbolizes loyalty; white symbolizes evil; blue symbolizes cruelty and outrageous arrogance; yellow symbolizes competency and valiancy. During the 1920s, Sit Kok Sin tried to improve the traditional make-up by borrowing the techniques from Beijing Opera, Western opera and movies. Thus, the make-ups were made more natural. One of the most common makeup style is the "white and red face", that is, an application of white foundation and a red color around the eyes that fades down to the bottom of cheeks. The eyebrows are long and the lipstick is usually in bright red.

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