Crosscut Now

Crosscut Now

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Seattle Opera presents Malcolm X’s life

For the first time ever, Seattle Opera is presenting a mainstage production of a work by a Black composer. With a score that blends elements of jazz and swing into traditional opera, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X (Feb. 24 - March 9) traces the civil rights leader’s life from his childhood in Lansing, Mich., to his assassination in Harlem.

The opera was the first composed by Anthony Davis, who has since created seven more — including The Central Park Five, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2020. But when X was first performed in 1985, biographical operas — much less operas about Black figures in recent history — were not commonly seen on stages. 

X went largely unperformed for decades, until a collaboration of several opera companies brought it back to life with a grand restaging that premiered at the Detroit Opera in 2022, appeared at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera in 2023 and now takes the Seattle Opera stage.

In addition to exploring the cultural and historical significance of Malcolm X, the piece reflects a vital shift in contemporary opera: an effort to bring diverse and important real-world stories to the stage.

As soprano Leah Hawkins told Crosscut Now when we went behind the scenes during a rehearsal of X, “I don’t want [it to be] a ‘special event’ that we’re doing this Black show. It should be normal. We should see Black stories, we should see Asian stories, we should see Hispanic stories … It should be normal.”

Watch the full interview and rehearsal footage in this episode. Plus, we take a look back at 50 years of the Boldt Decision, and legislators consider a financial safety net for striking WA workers.