Malcolm X, day of honor

Seattle Opera’s ‘X: The Life And Times Of Malcolm X’ Receives Rave Reviews For Groundbreaking Representation And Powerful Performance

Anthony Davis’ poignant opera premiered in September 1986 at the New York City Opera. It recently made its way to Seattle.

The much-touted opera “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” was met with rave reviews during its run by the Seattle Opera at McCaw Hall earlier this month. The production is part of an effort to bring more inclusive content to Black audiences. 

“’X — the first opera by a Black composer to run on Seattle Opera’s mainstage — is a continuation of efforts by Seattle Opera to bring Black stories to its stages and Black audiences through its doors. It’s also an opportunity for the ‘X’ cast and Black community members to reflect on what it means to produce this opera today, and the kinds of stories they hope to see in the future,” the show’s star, Kenneth Kellogg, told The Seattle Times

The opera was composed by Anthony Davis, with the libretto by renowned playwright Thulani Davis.

The groundbreaking production is a co-production of the Metropolitan Opera, Detroit Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Opera Omaha, and Seattle Opera.

The cast of “The Life and Times of Malcolm X” includes Jace Johnson, who plays the role of young Malcolm X, and Leah Hopkins, who has dual roles. She first stars as Louise Little, Malcolm’s mother, and then the vocal powerhouse re-emerges on stage as Malcolm X’s wife, Betty Shabazz. Kellogg wowed the audience with his rich, booming voice in the role of an adult Malcolm X.

The opera incorporates several musical genres, including jazz and Afrobeat, to tell the story of Malcolm X’s life. Act I depicts the civil rights leader’s traumatic childhood when he was orphaned at an early age after his father was killed in a racially motivated hate crime and his mother was institutionalized after experiencing a mental breakdown.

It then follows Malcolm as he moves to Boston and then Harlem, where he begins committing crimes, including a robbery that led him to a serve a seven-year prison stint, before joining the Nation of Islam. After joining the Nation, he become one of the most prominent leaders in history. 

Renowned choreographer Rickey Tripp led the dancers. Costume designer Dede Ayite helped move the story forward with her eye-catching period costumes. 

Attendee Micah J said that the show helped him “feel seen” as a Black man. 

“Overall, this opera worked very well as a catalyst for people like me who need to do more research on Malcolm X’s life, as it conveyed valuable information through an elegant medium. The only fear I have is that the many white people who came to see an opera will leave it with no context for how significant the life of Malcolm X was and still is to Black people in America today,” the 17-year-old wrote in Real Change News.

X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X premiered in Seattle on Feb. 24 and continued through March 9.