Sunday, November 19, 2023

Opera X: A Space Exploration


The Dresser loves seeing opera as a simulcast broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera. This is how on November 18, 2023, she saw X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, the opera by composer Anthony Davis, his cousin—poet and librettist—Thulani Davis, and his brother Christopher Davis who wrote the story/book for this work. Why the Dresser loves the simulcast experience is because during the intermission (and there were two twenty-minute intermissions in this three-act, over three-hour opera) the audience is treated to interviews that provide a wealth of information that you do not hear if you attend the live performance. Another benefit is that the cost of admission is a fraction of the ticket price for a good seat live at the Met. Also, the camera close-ups are much better than what a viewer with binoculars can hope to see.


Overall, the Dresser was glad she saw X. The first act which tells the story of the young Malcolm Little (X) with its rhymical layered jazz,  big chorus, dancing, beautiful costumes, and spaceship was as exciting as the Dresser expected, given the preview she had seen. During the first intermission, host Angela Bassett (who played Malcolm’s wife in the film Malcolm X) revealed that the space ship had a connection to Marcus Garvey, a Black separatist who organized an American Black nationalist movement that included a shipping line named the Black Star Line that was supposed to ship Blacks to Africa. Somehow, Garvey’s beliefs about the future for Black people plays into Director Robert O’Hara’s abstract Afrofuturistic production. Does it work? Well, while the Dresser was willing to suspend disbelief in Act I, not so much in Acts II and III.


Act II deals with Malcolm’s imprisonment for various crimes like stealing and the friendship with Elijah Mohammed that leads Malcolm to become a Muslim activist. Act III deals with Elijah Mohammed’s disapproval of X’s outspokenness. Act III ends with X’s assassination. While Act I swirls with action, variety, and color, Acts II and III are more black and white with reality and therefore do not integrate plot-wise with that hovering space ship.


Director O’Hara’s choice of cast also required some suspension of disbelief. In this production, Malcolm X is cast as baritone Will Liverman who is a short, compact man whereas the historic Malcolm X was tall and thin. Malcolm’s wife Betty (who also plays Malcolm’s mother) is soprano Leah Hawkins, a Rubenesque woman who seems bigger in body and voice than Liverman. Their performances are perfectly professional but there is no spark between them since they do not look like they belong together. The Dresser, however, loved the casting of high tenor Victor Ryan Robertson in the roles of Street and Elijah Mohammed. In the role Street, Robertson is reminiscent of Sportin’ Life in Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess. As Elijah, Robertson projects an exceptional otherness as a holy leader that feels right for the role.


What the Dresser liked best about this production of X was the libretto with its short words and repetitions and the music which conductor Kazem Abdullah said was difficult but which he brought across so well. The passages with haunting saxophone solos made the Dresser think of shadowy film noir. A seatmate pointed out that influences ranged from Thelonius Monk (Epistrophy), Leonard Bernstein (e.g., West Side Story’s “When you’re a Jet”), and Stravinsky (Rite of Spring).


X runs through December 2, 2023, at the Metropolitan Opera.



No comments:

Post a Comment