The Evolution of Anthony Davis’s ‘Malcolm X’ Opera

Malcolm X is back—in operatic form, at least. X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, with a score by composer Anthony Davis and a libretto by playwright Thulani Davis, scored a somewhat hollow triumph with its official 1986 New York City Opera premiere, garnering positive reviews and some regional productions, as well as a return to NYCO in an abridged form in 2010, but never quite becoming a staple of the opera repertoire.

Now a world-class creative team led by director Robert O’Hara is helping put this opera back into national circulation with a run that will culminate with its premiere at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in November 2023, making it only the second opera by a Black composer to be staged at the Met.

The new revival began its journey last May at Detroit Opera, in one of many cities Malcolm X lived. The work’s next stop was the city where the martyred leader was born as Malcolm Little, Omaha, Neb., where Opera Omaha hosts performances this weekend, Nov. 4 and 6. After Omaha, the two-act work goes not only to New York’s Met but also to Seattle Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago. Organizers say that more opera companies and cities may be added.