Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and Odyssey Opera will present the New England premiere of “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” Friday June 17 at 8 p.m. at The Strand Theatre in Boston.
The opera, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis, debuted in 1986. This new performance will be staged just a short distance from the house in the Roxbury neighborhood where Malcolm X (1925-1965), born Malcolm Little, lived during his formative adolescence.
The biographical opera details “the astonishing life of one of the most misunderstood men in history”. Led by conductor Gil Rose, this semi-staged three-act production will feature celebrated bass-baritone Davóne Tines, in the title role of Malcolm X; mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller (Ella); soprano Whitney Morrison (Louise/Betty); baritone Joshua Conyers (Reginald); tenor Victor Robertson (Elijah/Street); 14-year-old singer Jonathan Harris (Malcolm Little); and the BMOP orchestra with an ensemble of jazz soloists.
BMOP is dedicated to exclusively commissioning, performing, and recording music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Since its founding by Gil Rose in 1996, BMOP has championed composers whose careers span 90 years. In 2013, Rose created Odyssey Opera which presents “adventurous and eclectic works that affirm opera as a powerful expression of the human experience.”
“It’s a thrill to present X, undoubtedly one of the great American operas of the 20th century. There is no better way to celebrate contemporary Black creativity in Boston and nationally than with the resurrection of a forgotten work composed, written, and performed by Black artists about Black activist and legend Malcolm X, just blocks away from his home,” says Rose.
Davis recently completed revisions to”X” to reflect his updated views on the opera.
“Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik el Shabazz) is an even more relevant figure today,” says Davis, who won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his opera The Central Park Five. “It has been 35 years since the premiere of X. Malcom X’s vision is as prescient today as it was in 1986. He is an inspiration for Black Lives Matter and the movement for social justice. As a composer, I am thrilled to help create X as an opera for today that speaks to the future as well as the past.”
Described by The New York Times as “a riveting and uncompromising work,” X pairs Davis’s score with a libretto by interdisciplinary scholar and writer Thulani Davis to depict the life and career of Malcolm X in a series of fast-moving vignettes.
Following the opera’s 1986 premiere, The New Yorker called it “unlike any other opera…. X is a work that deserves to enter the American repertory…not just a stirring and well-fashioned opera but one whose music adds a new, individual voice to those previously heard in our opera houses.”
Though the original recording of Davis’ masterwork is no longer in print, BMOP and Odyssey Opera will record “X” at the Strand Theater June 18 to 19 and release a world premiere recording of the revised edition on the BMOP/sound label.
The production, in partnership with Boston-based Black-led chamber ensemble, Castle of Our Skins, also includes an educational program to continue conversations about Malcolm X. This spring, Boston Arts Academy students learned about the history and legacy of Malcolm X while creating works to commemorate his life and impact. Student video works, visual art, and dance performances will be presented in the lobby at the Strand Theatre before, during and after the concert.
“X” begins BMOP’s five-year performance and recording initiative “As Told By: History, Race, and Justice on the Opera Stage” presenting opera by Black composers. Unveiled in 2021, the new initiative will elevate opera by Black composers. From now until 2026, “As Told By” will feature neglected repertoire, current masterpieces, and new operas by Black American composers depicting vital figures of Black liberation and Black thought across 250 years of history.