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Chinese performers don robes and false beards to belt out tunes passed down for more than two centuries. [Photos by Johannes Eisele / AFP]

Part of the nation's Intangible Cultural

Heritage, Yunnan opera's audience is steadily shrinking

White makeup covering their aged faces, Chinese performers - all aged over 50 - don richly-colored robes and false beards to belt out tunes passed down for more than two centuries.

The "Flower Lantern" Yunnan Opera troupe performs each day on a run-down stage, their droning instruments and melismatic singing mingling with sounds from a vegetable market next door.

But just a few elderly spectators sit watching, a sign of waning interest in the art despite their efforts.

"The situation is getting worse each year, our stage has moved seven times and each time it gets smaller," says He Zhengcai, the group's 72-year-old director.

Backstage with half-done makeup, he briefed each performer about the characters and plots for the afternoon's two hour show.

He has six decades of experience, and many of the seven other actors, who looked in rusty mirrors to daub their faces with powder, are also veterans.

"I normally inform everyone his or her role half an hour before the show. They prepare their lines while doing makeup."

Browse photography at Denver.Gallery.