One of the latest productions from the Metropolitan Opera is going to be something great!
The Metropolitan Opera has announced a new production in has in the works that is focused on the life of civil rights leader Malcolm X, NY 1 reports. “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X,” is a story from writer Christopher Davis, composer Anthony Davis, and librettist Thulani Davis that first premiered in 1986. Inspired by the idea of Malcolm X as a tragic hero figure, the three were committed to using the influence of music to bring Malcolm’s story to the opera world.
“At the time, we were all in New York in the late ‘70s and early ’80s, which gave us the opportunity to work together. There was a lot of cross-pollination, across disciplines, happening then. Anthony and Thulani had done some work together, combining her poetry and his music. We were all sort of involved in what was happening at The Public Theater, where they had concerts after events. So, we were clued into the possibilities of doing something across disciplines,” Davis told Seattle Opera.
“Anthony was also really interested in exploring longer forms. In the early ’80s he’d worked extensively with choreographers and was looking for other means of expression. I thought that the story of Malcolm X was almost a classic tragedy, including having the false reconciliation in Act Two followed by the true tragic ending in Act Three. At the time, we would all get together, hang out, and talk about this. It was decided that I would generate the story, Thulani would generate the libretto, and then pass it on to Anthony who would then write the music,” he added.
The production had an unprecedented success and was groundbreaking in a lot of ways, ushering in a new wave of opera. Anthony Davis went on to win a Grammy for his 1993 recording of “X” and has continued his pioneering work, recently winning a Pulitzer Prize for his 2020 opera, “The Central Park Five.”
Now nearly four decades since its original debut, the Malcolm X opera has arrived at the Met, centering the revered leader once again for a new generation. The story chronicles his humble beginnings in Omaha, Nebraska, to joining the nation of Islam in prison during the 1940s. It will conclude with his meteoric rise to the top as a national spokesman for the organization and his enduring legacy as a civil rights icon.
“It shows snapshots of Malcolm’s life and also starts a little bit before Malcolm X came into being and some of the influences that led to him having the consciousness that he had so the opera opens with a group of people that were known as the Garveyites. It takes you through Black history and Black music history too,” explained conductor Kazem Abdullah.
Abdullah previously worked alongside jazz composer Terence Blanchard on the hit drama “Fire Shut Up in my Bones,” where Blanchard made history as the first Black composer to have his work performed at the Met. Abdullah now comes to this project alongside baritone Will Liverman, who will perform as Malcolm X. Liverman also worked on “Fire Shut Up in my Bones” and Abdullah hopes this show will have equal success and pay homage to the slain leader.
“I think the way the opera has been composed really does tremendous justice to Malcolm X, how his voice was, how his aura was, how his effect on the world and on Black America was…So while it’s an operatic idiom, the wonderful composer Anthony Davis has incorporated jazz music from across the 20th century – as you go from each decade of Malcolm’s life you hear different styles of jazz,” said Abdullah.
While Malcolm X was assassinated at just 39 years old, his late widow, Dr. Betty Shabazz, and daughters have worked tirelessly to keep his memory alive. The musical is set to showcase next month and Abdullah hopes this work can be a part of keeping that legacy going for the next generation.
“There haven’t been actually many Black conductors in the history of the Met to have their own production,” Abdullah said. “It’s really for me a great honor and a pleasure to be back at America’s greatest opera house doing an opera about one of America’s greatest leaders.”
After almost 40 years, the original creators are excited to see their work finally platformed at one of the preeminent opera houses in the world. When asked why they think it took this long and what the renewed interest was, they pointed to the recent racial reckoning spurred after the murder of George Floyd and a type of social consciousness they possessed long ago that the opera world is just starting to embrace.
“I think many events, including the rise of Black Lives Matter and Malcolm X’s preeminence as a leader and a foreshadower for Black Lives Matter, became a kind of a critical mass that sparked interest,” said Davis.
“People caught up to us,” Christopher Davis added.
You can purchase your tickets to see “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” at the Metropolitan Opera here.