USA: “Tragic hero” Malcolm X opera comes to New York’s Met

A musical biography of civil rights leader Malcolm X infusing history with Afrofuturism will open on Friday (Nov. 03) at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

‘X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X’ which premiered in 1986 was composed by Anthony Davis.

The acclaimed improvisational jazz pianist says his operatic rendition of X’s life aimed to include the ideas and concepts that he was so committed to. 

He revealed why he chose the 20th century figure to compose his opera:  “For one thing, to me, Malcolm is a tragic hero. And his story is, you know, when he finally realized who he was, and really understood what his position in the world and could make really a significant contribution he was struck down, he was struck down by our people”

The opera presents 12 vignettes from Malcolm X life from his birth in 1925 as Malcom Little, his father’s demise, his joining of the Black nationalist group Nation of Islam, the adoption of the name Malcolm X, and finally his assassination in 1965 at age 39.

Part of staging “X,” both Davis and Hawkins, one of the lead actors, said, is to teach.

“It’s a slice of American history that’s not told all the time. And also during this time now that you have politicians who want to suppress history and, silence history and kinda make that history invisible. I think it’s important that people see that and understand those stories,” Davis added.

Black experience on stage

The opera revival, which first ran in Detroit in 2021, sees O’Hara put on an Afrofuturist legend of sorts, with an enormous spaceship swirling above the prestigious Met Opera stage, and a choir whose aesthetic marries pre-colonial traditions with high-fashion sci-fi.

The show’s title character is portrayed throughout his life but cuts across time and space, accompanied by a troupe of dancers whose bodies give shape to the score.

The cast is led by Baritone Will Liverman who plays Malcom X.

Soprano Leah Hawkins stars as both Malcolm X’s mother, Louise Little, and his wife, Betty Shabazz.

The opera stands out in the classical music world with its diversity and themes.

She believes bringing the Black experience to the stage “is something that I want to be normal… I don’t want it to be a special event.”

“There was a time that opera kept up with the times. And so we’re now able to do the same. And it makes him more relatable to our audiences. It gives them the chance to have characters and people that they can hold on to, that they have some relation to. And it brings in all kinds of people into the house that maybe necessarily wouldn’t have come before.”

Change is indeed on the way; Anthony Davis’s groundbreaking opera has become the second opera by a Black composer in Met history.

The musical play with an estimated run time of 3 hours 20 minutes will be presented at the prestigious New York opera until December 2nd.