No more black looks at the masked ball

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The Royal Opera has been forced into a U-turn over the "blacking up" of a white mezzo-soprano playing the roll of a black woman.

Stephanie Blythe had been covered in make-up during the rehearsals of Un Ballo in Maschera (The Masked Ball), but when the production opened at Covent Garden on Thursday her skin was its natural colour.

The last minute change came about after novelist, Philip Hensher, wrote in The Independent the day before of his disbelief at seeing a practice long since banished from British television and theatre.

He wrote: "To see a revival of 'blacking up' in the opera house, in 2005, is just beyond belief... We couldn't stop laughing at the ludicrous sight."

The company said it made the change because of the need to be "sensitive to issues of racism".