Opera: Tenor in Whiteface

In the dressing rooms of the Santa Fe Opera last week, the Metropolitan Opera's George Shirley daubed his face with a pinkish cream, molded layers of face putty across his high cheekbones and along his nose. The makeup had nothing to do with his role in the U.S. premiere of Hans Werner Henze's The Stag King. It is a ritual that Shirley, 31, performs before every opera, a mask to disguise one of his real-life characteristics—that he is a Negro.

Atonal Dream. Shirley is far from embarrassed about his race, but he is a tenor, and therein lies the problem....

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