• Anthony Davis
  • X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X (1986)

  • G Schirmer Inc (World)
  • 2(II:pic,afl).1.2.1./2.1.1+btbn.0/timp.2perc/str; Improvisers' ensemble: wwI(asx,ssx,fl), wwII(tsx,bcl,ssx), wwIII(cl,cacl[=barsx]), tpt, tbn, dmkit, pf, db(elec bass)
  • SATB
  • Soprano, Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Tenor, Tenor, Baritone, Bass Baritone, Bass, Boy Voice
  • 2 hr 30 min
  • Libretto by Thulani Davis, story by Christopher Davis
  • English

Programme Note

X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X sketches in a series of fast-moving vignettes the galvanic life and career of the controversial African-American activist Malcolm X (1925-1965). X features a dark, non-tonal palette, complex, shifting rhythmic patterns, and poignant lyricism; it is influenced by classical, popular, and non-Western sources. 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. Although X's score features some improvisational passages, it is constructed primarily according to traditional operatic guidelines.

First performance: New York City Opera, Christopher Keene, conductor, 28 September 1986.
This work was developed by the American Music Theater Festival, and had its first full-length production with orchestra in Philadelphia, PA, on 9 October 1985.

Malcolm X: Baritone
Elijah Muhammad / Street: High Tenor
Louise / Betty: Soprano

Reginald: Bass-baritone

Social Worker / Reporter: Soprano
Queen Mother Preacher: Mezzo-soprano
Cop / Reporter: Tenor
Garvey Preacher / Ensemble: Bass
Malcolm Little (12-14 Year-old): Child Tenor (Michael Jackson voice)

16-24 SATB



Scene 1

1931, Lansing, Michigan. At the home of Reverend Earl Little and his wife, Louise, a meeting is taking place of the local chapter of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Improvement Association, and Rev. Little is late. Louise has been tense all day and members of the meeting are concerned about active white supremacist groups terrorizing local people.

Louise remembers past attacks that haunt her. A policeman arrives to say that Rev. Little was killed in a streetcar accident. The neighbors ponder what may have really happened and Louise becomes distraught, sings to herself and shortly becomes unreachable.

A social worker comes to the home sometime later and declares the Little children to be wards of the state. Malcolm tries to reach his mother who does not react to him. (She is hospitalized.) His older half-sister appears to take him to her home in Boston.

Scene 2

About 1940, Boston. Still very much a country boy, Malcolm is introduced to Ella’s middle-class black Boston, and through his discovery of the music there, finds himself in the local after-hours life, with his guide, a character named Street. But as a young adult, he gets his involved with some people who rob a wealthy home, and he is arrested.

Scene 3

In an interrogation room, Malcolm reveals the anger over the troubles that have long plagued people like him.


Scene 1

1946-48. Malcolm broods in jail when his brother, Reginald, comes to visit. Reginald tells him about Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, whose teachings he thinks will help his brother. Malcolm begins to study the Nation’s teachings and to read many books. He becomes a serious and more hopeful man. Malcolm X is born.

1952. The jail recedes as Malcolm hears and then sees Elijah. It is as if the word removed the bars. They come face to face. Elijah embraces Malcolm like a son. He tells him he has much to learn, to spread Allah’s word, and sends him out to start temples. He is an electrifying speaker.

Scene 2

1954—63. Malcolm begins his ministry, helping to found temples in Boston, Philadelphia, Springfield, Hartford, Atlanta, and New York. This scene spans several years in telescopic fashion. The period includes some of the heights of the civil rights era and closes with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Malcolm is seen speaking on various Harlem street corners as time passes. He always takes the crowd.

Scene 3

Malcolm warms to his task when speaking before more and more exuberant crowds and decries some of the peaceful protests in the South as Malcolm defines his own political position.

Scene 4

He leads an anthem declaring “We are a nation.” At the end he is asked about Kennedy’s death and makes a remark lacking in sensitivity to the nation’s mourning. Elijah is enraged.

Scene 5

Malcolm and Betty briefly discuss his upcoming meeting with Elijah. They express the hope that their children will be free to dream without fear.


Scene 1

1963. Malcolm is called to see Elijah, who is both disturbed that this spokesman for the Nation may have put the organization in jeopardy and that he may have become too powerful. Malcolm is disparaged by other Muslims as he comes to the meeting. The Nation is splintering into vying factions. Elijah silences Malcolm for three months and Malcolm consents to the will of his leader.


Scene 2

He visits with his family, disheartened by the turmoil dividing his community and reporters hounding his every step. Betty hands him a ticket and tells him to go to Mecca, to spend time alone, and find his way. He decides to simply trust in Allah and ask for His help.

Malcolm is in Mecca, dressed in the simple cloths of a hajji, and awaiting word as to whether he will be permitted in as a convert and not a man born in Islam. The call to morning prayer is heard and people there begin to go through the traditional motions of prayer, which are new to him. He watches, imitates the others, and tries to learn the orthodox ritual. He has a larger vision of people across the world united together in faith, rather than by a single ideology.

Scene 3

1964-65. Just before he returns to Harlem, a riot breaks out there. He returns, now a changed man, but outwardly the same. He is greeted by reporters who question him about the rioting.

Scene 4

Later, he delivers a speech before his own newly formed group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He tells his supporters what he has learned in Africa that they are a part of a larger movement against Colonialism and Racism. He is warned of death threats. He is not concerned with the fear so evident around him.

Scene 5

He arrives to give a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. After greeting his audience, he is gunned down.

- T. Davis. May 2022



Vocal Score
Act I, full score
Act II, full score
Act III, full score


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