Malcolm X Opera's Boston Premiere Stars Rising Baritone Davóne Tines

Wednesday June 1, 2022

Davóne Tines
Davóne Tines  (Source:BMOP)

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and Odyssey Opera, two of today's leading innovators on the classical musical scene, present the New England premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis's seminal opera "X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X" (1986) on June 17, 2022, at the Strand Theatre, a short distance from the house where Malcolm Little lived in his teenage years in Roxbury.

This sprawling, genre-bending biographical opera unfolds the astonishing life of one of the most misunderstood men in history. Led by conductor Gil Rose, this semi-staged, three-act production features celebrated bass-baritone Davóne Tines, Musical America's 2021 Vocalist of the Year, embodying the title role of Malcolm X; mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller (Ella); soprano Whitney Morrison (Louise/Betty); Boston-based baritone Joshua Conyers (Reginald); tenor Victor Robertson (Elijah/Street); 14-year-old Framingham singer Jonathan Harris (Malcolm Little); and the full BMOP orchestra with an ensemble of jazz soloists. X marks the first production in BMOP's five-year performance and recording initiative As Told By: History, Race, and Justice on the Opera Stage, the most extensive and ambitious presentation of opera by Black composers to ever take place in the United States.

According to Gil Rose, Founder and Artistic Director of both BMOP and Odyssey Opera, "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."

Similarly, composer Anthony Davis, winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Music for The Central Park Five, agrees that there is no better time than now — and notes recently completed revisions to 'X' reflect his updated views on the opera. "Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik el Shabazz) is an even more relevant figure today," says Davis. "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 distinctive score with a libretto by Thulani Davis to depict the galvanic life and career of Malcolm X (1925-1965) in a series of fast-moving vignettes. After the opera's 1986 premiere, The New Yorker declared, "the work is gripping, and it is 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." 

Sadly, the original recording of Davis' masterwork is no longer in print. BMOP and Odyssey Opera will record 'X' at the Strand Theater during the weekend of June 18-19 for a world premiere recording of the revised edition to be released on BMOP/sound.