'X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X' Returns at the MET

'X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X' Returns at the MET
Will Liverman
© Zenith Richards, The MET Opera

Interwoven with Malcolm X's own words, Thulani Davis' libretto is as fierce as it is compassionate, matching composer Anthony Davis's weaving of art and vernacular music into a profound whole.

Jennifer Goltz-Taylor, Opera News

The groundbreaking and influential opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, arrives at The Metropolitan Opera on November 3 to December 2, 2023. The production will be broadcasted Live in HD on November 18. 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.

Three decades later, X is back in New York City at the mighty Metropolitan Opera. Theater luminary and Tony-nominee Robert O’Hara directs a potent new staging, which imagines Malcolm as an everyman whose story transcends time and space. The production draws on the philosophy and aesthetics of Afrofuturism, a mode of expression that envisions alternate, liberated futures for people of African descent, often through images and ideas associated with science fiction and technology.

An exceptional cast of breakout artists and young Met Opera stars enliven the operatic retelling of the civil rights leader’s life. Baritone Will Liverman sings Malcolm X, alongside soprano Leah Hawkins as his mother, Louise; mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis as his sister Ella; bass-baritone Michael Sumuel as his brother Reginald; and tenor Victor Ryan Robertson as Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. Kazem Abdullah conducts the newly revised score.

"I hope the audience is moved," writes Anthony Davis on his opera's historic return to New York. "It’s not just about an intellectual response; it’s the visceral response, what it makes you feel. And the language that Thulani used really speaks to today. Malcolm says, 'You had your foot on me, always pressing.' You think of George Floyd, and you realize the prescience of the libretto, that what happened 50 years ago still happens today. I think it will act as a crossing of a racial barrier for some people. And for Black people, it’s realizing the pride we have in our heroes, who exemplify what we want to be, and who had a vision of what we could become."

Writing for The Nation in 1986, Edward Said described X as “a riveting work, uncompromising politically...splendidly theatrical…authentically important and original.” In a series of fast-moving vignettes, the opera sketches the galvanic life and career of the controversial African-American activist Malcolm X (1925-1965). Davis' score juxtaposes complex rhythmic patterns with poignant lyricism; it is influenced by classical, popular, and non-Western sources. Examples of historical African-American music, including swing, scat, and modal jazz, and the libretto's emulation of contemporaneous literary styles, help recreate the "sound" of Malcolm's world. 

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