Civil War and Civil Rights

Civil War and Civil Rights
New York City Opera's 1986 production of
X — The Life and Times of Malcolm X
Highlighting works of relevance within our contemporary dialogue, Music Sales offers a selection of operas about key people and events of African-American heritage that have transformed our society and collective history.
Anthony Davis
X — The Life and Times of Malcolm X (1986; 2 hours, 30 minutes)
Libretto: Thulani Davis, story by Christopher Davis
Premiere: New York City Opera
In a series of fast-moving vignettes, X — The Life and Times of Malcolm X sketches the galvanic life and career of the controversial African-American activist Malcolm X (1925-1965). The opera traces the life of Malcolm X from his boyhood in Lansing Michigan through his early brushes with the law, his joining the Nation of Islam, his own ministry, his pilgrimage to Mecca, and his assassination.
The restless and impassioned score is influenced by traditions of classical, jazz, popular, and non-western music. Examples of historical African-American music including swing, scat modal jazz, and rap, and the libretto's emulation of contemporaneous literary styles help recreate the 'sound' of Malcolm's era.
Watch: OPERA America Salon, Act I Scene 3 'I Would Not Tell You What I Know'
Full score: Act I, Act II, Act III
Richard Danielpour
Margaret Garner (2005; 2 hours, 20 minutes)
Libretto: Toni Morrison
Premiere: Michigan Opera Theatre
Acclaimed American novelist Toni Morrison developed the libretto of Margaret Garner based on the life of the African-American woman who was enslaved in Kentucky and escaped with her family into Ohio. Before being recaptured, she killed her daughter and attempted to kill her other children to keep them from being returned to slavery. Margaret is a character that Morrison also explored in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved.
Watch: Opera Philadelphia, Act II Scene 2 'I Will Be With You As My Wife'
Full score: Act I, Act II, Vocal score
Philip Glass
Appomattox (2007, rev. 2015; 1 hour, 45 minutes)
Libretto: Christopher Hampton
Premieres: San Francisco Opera (2007); Washington National Opera (2015)
Appomattox explores the struggle to end racial inequality in America at two key crossroads a century apart: General Ulysses S. Grant's dramatic war-ending deliberations with General Robert E. Lee at a Virginia courthouse — and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s passionate debates with President Lyndon B. Johnson as civil rights protesters rallied in Alabama.
Watch: Washington National Opera, trailer
Full score: Act I, Act II
Peter Maxwell Davies
Kommilitonen! (Young Blood!) (2010; 1 hour, 30 minutes)
Libretto: David Pountney
Premiere: Royal Academy of Music
Kommilitonen! consists of three interlocking stories of students involved in political action in three different situations. Part 3, 'The Oxford Revolution', tells the story of James Meredith, who fought a lonely battle against segregation and racial prejudice to become the first black student to enroll at 'Ole Miss'.
Watch: Royal Academy of Music, Act II Scene 28 (Finale)
Full score, Vocal score
Kirke Mechem
John Brown (2010; 2 hours, 7 minutes)
Libretto: the composer
Premiere: Lyric Opera of Kansas City
John Brown details the events leading up to and surrounding the abortive attempt by John Brown, a charismatic abolitionist, to destroy American slavery by force of arms.
Watch: Albany Pro Musica, Act III Scene 1 "Dear Husband"
Full score: Act I, Act II, Act III
Thea Musgrave
Harriet, The Woman Called Moses (1984, 2 hours, 10 minutes)
Libretto: the composer
Premiere: Virginia Opera
The Story of Harriet Tubman (1990; 1 hour, 30 minutes)
Libretto: the composer
Premiere: Mobile Opera Company
Harriet, The Woman Called Moses and its shorter chamber version, The Story of Harriet Tubman, are freely based on the life of Harriet Tubman, the famed 'conductor' on the Underground Railroad, who escaped slavery in Maryland and returned to the South nineteen times, rescuing over three hundred people.
Scores: Harriet, The Woman Called Moses and The Story of Harriet Tubman
Julia Wolfe
Steel Hammer (2009; 1 hour, 30 minutes)
Libretto: culled from over 200 versions of the John Henry ballad
Premiere: Bang on a Can All-Stars and Trio Mediaeval
Steel Hammer is inspired by the legend of John Henry, immortalized for his race against 'the machine'. Its orchestration — created for Bang on a Can All-Stars — includes mountain dulcimers, wooden bones, banjo, steel hammers, and more.
Watch: BAM Next Wave Festival, trailer
Full score

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