History, justice play out as ‘X’ fills seats at the Strand

More than 1,200 attendees filled the seats of the Strand Theatre last Friday for the New England premiere of composer Anthony Davis’s 1985 opera “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X.”

This revival was produced by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) in partnership with Odyssey Opera. Gil Rose, a Roxbury resident who directed the production, is the conductor for both groups.

BMOP commissions, performs, and records music from the 20th and 21st centuries. Odyssey Opera was founded in 2013 by Rose to bring underperformed operatic works to the stage. 

The groups have now converged in the five-year initiative “As Told By: History, Race, and Justice on the Opera Stage.” Writing in the program for this production, Rose notes that he was inspired by the widespread neglect of William Grant Still’s “Troubled Island,” the first opera by a Black composer performed by a major American company. He also considers “X” to be “one of the great American operas, if not THE great American opera.” 

The initiative also includes Ulysses Kay’s “Frederick Douglass,” Nkeiru Okoye’s “Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom,” and a new work by Jonathan Bailey Holland and Tracy Conyer Lee, “The Bridge.”

Ros says he is aiming to recover some of the forgotten operatic works and to give a platform to the future of opera. 

The plot of “X” spans the years between 1931 to 1965 and covers Malcolm’s childhood, adult life, and assassination. 

In Friday’s production, acclaimed bass-baritone Davóne Tines, Musical America’s 2021 Vocalist of the Year, played the role of Malcolm. Also involved were two members of The Boston Children’s Chorus, an organization that weaves together social justice and music education. Kenneth Griffith, the conductor of BCC’s Premier Choir, was the choral conductor for “X,” and Jonathan Harris, a 12-year-old singer from Brockton, played the role of young Malcolm.

BMOP and Odyssey Opera recorded the performance during the opening weekend, and this version will supplement the 1985 recording of “X” that is now out of print. 

A performance of “As Told By” that will feature the full orchestra debut of Nkeiru Okoye’s “Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom” will be produced next year.

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