Life of civil rights icon becomes an opera with “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X”

Originally premiered in 1985, “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” will close out Detroit Opera’s spring season. Artistic director Yuval Sharon and “X” composer Anthony Davis talk about its lasting impact

Photo credit: Detroit Opera House

“X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” opens with a heart-wrenching scene in East Lansing and tells the story of civil rights icon Malcolm X through the language of opera.

But it’s far from the Euro-centric opera you might expect. Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis infuses jazz into the music to help give a contemporary feel to the story, which will be staged at the Detroit Opera House across three performances on May 14, May 19 and May 22. 

“Opera can reveal an emotional depth of what is going on in terms of racial conflicts and the emotions of the story. In music, you can promote a type of empathy with the audience so they can identify with people on the stage.” —Anthony Davis, composer

Davis and Detroit Opera artistic director Yuval Sharon joined “CultureShift” on WDET to chat about this latest production of “X,” which first opened in 1985, and its lasting legacy with new audiences.

Listen: Composer Anthony Davis and Detroit Opera artistic director Yuval Sharon explore the themes of “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X.”



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  • Ryan Patrick Hooper
    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host and producer of CultureShift on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.