The Family That Turned Malcolm X’s Life Into Opera

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When I did “X,” I wrote everything by hand. I thought it would be good to have it in the computer, so I could have flexibility: If I were doing it with an orchestra of 10, say, I could easily could do the reduction. It would be useful.

So I input the largest version I could think of, of what the piece could be — excerpts, so it could be done in concert. I had almost finished with the excerpts, which was like half the opera, and Yuval Sharon called me. He was going to be taking over at Detroit Opera, and said one of the first things he wanted to do was “X.” And I said, “Well, funny you should say that.”

I started reworking the orchestration, and looking at places I thought could be more concise. For me, it was a revitalizing thing, coming back to where I started in opera, and realizing why I’d gotten so excited. I could refine it while keeping true to the original spirit.

THULANI Getting into your 70s is helpful as well; you know less is more. We both have become more economical. It wasn’t painful to trim stuff.

CHRISTOPHER And Thulani added a scene with Malcolm and Betty.

ANTHONY I had seen the movie “One Night in Miami,” which is about a kind of mythological meeting of Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. And there’s a little scene where Malcolm is on the phone with Betty, and he’s saying he’s going to meet with Elijah Muhammad. I said, whoa, we don’t have that; that’s kind of interesting, having this intimate scene before he goes.

THULANI Anthony also asked me to put back the original aria for Betty.

ANTHONY It’s a different moment than in the ’80s. Classical music has been trying to address the decades-long exclusion of people of color, and opening up not just to different people but also to a different aesthetic.

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