It was not necessary at all for them try to make their non-Asian cast members look Asian.
Knoxville Opera, an opera company in Tennessee, has recently faced social media backlash for their production of "Madame Butterfly." The production featured what appears to be an all-white cast wearing makeup intended to emulate East Asian features. The company has been accused of racism and putting performers in yellowface, as well as being criticized for not casting any Asian performers.
Knoxville Opera's casting of white performers in the roles of Asian characters is already problematic in itself, especially considering the immense effort that the Asian-American community has made towards better Asian representation (not to mention the actual opera "Madame Butterfly" has already been widely criticized as being offensive and racially insensitive).
Some have speculated in the company's defense, arguing that the company may have had a difficult time finding Asian performers. However, Knoxville Opera has cast Asian performers before: in fact, the company's previous production of "Madame Butterfly" in 2010 had a Korean performer in the lead role. Additionally, many of the performers in the current production seem to have been sought after and hired from outside the company, meaning that the company could have sought out Asian performers.
To make matters worse, the promotional poster for the production showed a picture of an Asian woman, and footage of an Asian woman was featured in the promotional video as well. The use of images of Asian women is misleading when the cast is almost all white.
The casting, however, is not the main problem.
Even if there was somehow an excuse for not featuring some Asian performers, there is absolutely no excuse for the makeup. The cast members' makeup was very clearly meant to make them look "more Asian," with the most apparent example being the use of eyeliner in an attempt to create the look of monolids, or hooded eyes. Some of the female cast members wore makeup to make their skin paler along with a saturated blush and red lips to create the stereotypical image of a geisha. Furthermore, all of the cast had darkened eyebrows and black wigs, with some of these wigs appearing to have chopsticks in them. These costuming choices cannot be called anything other than yellowface.
If the company really could not find any Asian performers to cast, they could have worked with what they had without putting their cast in yellowface. It was not necessary at all for them to try to make their non-Asian cast members look Asian.
Knoxville Opera's production of "Madame Butterfly" is a very clear and blatant example of yellowface. Yellowface has a long and painful history for Asian Americans, and this incident and the initial lack of response to the issue only shows there is still a great deal of progress to be made and this issue is one that needs to be given more attention to help prevent similar situations in the future.