X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X
sketches in a series of fast-moving vignettes the galvanic life and career of the controversial African-American activist Malcolm X (1925-1965). X
features a dark, non-tonal palette, complex, shifting rhythmic patterns, and poignant lyricism; it is influenced by classical, popular, and non-Western sources. Examples of historical African-American music, including swing, scat, modal jazz, and rap, and the libretto's emulation of contemporaneous literary styles, help recreate the "sound" of Malcolm's era. Although X
's score features some improvisational passages, it is constructed primarily according to traditional operatic guidelines. Premiere:
First performance: New York City Opera, Christopher Keene, conductor, 28 September 1986.
This work was developed by the American Music Theater Festival, and had its first full-length production with orchestra in Philadelphia, PA, on 9 October 1985.
Young Malcolm Little--(boy soprano)
- Ensemble (minimum 15 members)
*Social Worker/the Blonde/Girlfriend/Reporter--(soprano)
Blind Man/Salesman/Player/Inmate/Numbers Runner/Muslim/Pilgrim--(bass)
Young Reginald Little (Malcolm's younger brother)/Muslim boy
Yvonne Little (youngest sibling)/Muslim girl
Hilda Little (oldest sibling)/Muslim girl
Clothes Salesman/Dope Fiend/Muslim
*white cast members; all others must be black
The opera traces the life of Malcolm X from his boyhood in Lansing, Michigan, through his early brushes with the law, his conversion to the teachings of Elijah of the Nation of Islam, his own ministry and his breach with Elijah, his pilgrimmage to Mecca, and his assassination.
Act I, Scene 1
1931 The Universal Negro Improvement Association, led by Malcolm’s father, Rev. Earl Little, meets at the Little home. Rev. Little is late. A white policeman enters, claiming Rev. Little was killed in a accident. Mrs. Little believes he was killed by a Klan-like group. She suffers a breakdown. A Social Worker disperses the family.
Act I, Scene 2
Malcolm’s half-sister Ella convinces him to live in Boston. Malcolm is mesmerized by black city life. The charismatic Street “schools” Malcolm as a hustler; doing drugs, using women, and looting homes. After a break-in Police arrest Malcolm, and his white girlfriend.
Act I, Scene 3
In prison Malcolm examines his life and the forces that shaped it.
Act II, Scene 1
1946-48. Malcolm is visited in prison by his brother Reginald, a convert to the Nation of Islam. Malcolm becomes a believer and studies the Koran and black history. Upon release he meets Elijah, who teaches him Allah’s Law, and to spread Allah’s word. Malcolm Little renounces his “slave name” for an “X”and sets out to open new temples.
Act II, Scene 2
1954-55 Malcolm begins his ministry, setting up base in Harlem. 1963 As Malcolm answers questions after a speech, word of Kennedy’s assassination spreads. A Reporter asks Malcolm’s reaction, and he gives the controversial answer: “...the chickens have come home to roost.”
Act III, Scene 1
1963. Malcolm is summoned to see Elijah who accuses Malcolm of jeopardizing the Nation of Islam and censures Malcolm, silencing him for three months.
Act III, Scene 2
The Nation becomes divided. Many follow Malcolm, though he is in turmoil and feels betrayed. His wife Betty convinces him to make the hajj. In Mecca, Malcolm is among believers of many nations with whom he cannot communicate but whose faith he shares. Here, a new Malcolm is born, renouncing his separatist ideas and joining the larger community of Islam.
Act III, Scene 3
1964-65. Malcolm returns from the Near East. Reporters accuse him of sparking violence that erupted in Harlem while he was abroad. He tries to relate what he has learned and his intention to address the UN with the grievances of black Americans. Others warn of death threats and that he is “a threat to our Nation.” Malcolm, who has changed his name to El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, is not concerned. During a speech in Harlem, he is gunned down by assassins.