Malcolm X Returns to the Stage

Malcolm X Returns to the Stage
Malcolm X

How can we maintain a sense of wonder while facing the brutality of American history and the legacy of X’s life here on Earth? What if that final gunshot was not the end of a legend, but the beginning of a liberation?

— Director Robert O’Hara

A newly revised version of  X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X by Anthony Davis returns to the opera stage this month. Tony Award-nominee Robert O'Hara directs the premiere production at Detroit Opera, and Artist-in-Residence Davóne Tines takes the stage as the iconic Malcolm X. Performances will take place May 14, 19, and 22. Later this spring, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project launches their “As Told By” series with a concert performance of X on June 17. 

Created by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis and librettist Thulani Davis on a story by Christopher Davis, X premiered at New York City Opera in 1986, where it was both a critical and box office success. At the time, it was described as “a riveting work, uncompromising politically...splendidly theatrical…authentically important and original” (Edward Said, The Nation). The opera’s narrative sketches the galvanic life and career of the controversial African-American activist in a series of fast-moving vignettes which trace his trajectory from hate to love.

X, Davis' first opera, has been revised for this new production and is co-produced with Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Metropolitan Opera, Opera Omaha, and Seattle Opera. It is scored for an orchestra that includes an improvising ensemble of woodwinds, trumpet, trombone, drumkit, piano, and bass. Kazem Abdullah conducts a cast that features Joshua Conyers, Ronnita Miller, Whitney Morrison, and Victor Ryan Robertson.

Commenting on this new production, O'Hara says, "We are contextualizing the opera by centering a radical Black imagination that embodies who Malcolm X was and what he means to us today. Imagining ourselves into the future is a powerful mechanism for dealing with our present."

Says Anthony Davis, “When we first talked about doing the opera, we thought that Malcolm was a figure who definitely had the dimension of an epic hero. And also because of his transformation and the changes he went through he is like a Ulysses or Siegfried or any other kind of classical hero. He represents ideas and the embodying of changes in our society and culture.”

Read an article by musicologist David Gutkin which examines Anthony Davis’ musical language heard in X and its role in shaping and participating in shaping the dramatic narrative of the opera.

Listen to an archival interview with Anthony Davis and Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air from 1984.

Boston Modern Orchestra Project presents X in a single concert performance on June 17. The Detroit cast reprises their roles in this performance at the Strand Theater in Dorchester, MA, just blocks from Malcolm X's childhood home. BMOP will also record X for a future release on their BMOP Sound label.

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