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The Life and Times of Malcolm X  

Avant-garde opera right in the heart of Oakland

Wednesday, Jun 7 2006
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Here's a challenging American opera that embodies the mercurial spirit of a challenging American. Life and Times offers a moving depiction of one man's journey from the nihilistic doubt of a hustler to the galvanizing faith of a leader. Composer Anthony Davis is generous with the mixing and matching of various 20th-century African-American musical idioms; his unusual harmonic structures point to the modal textures of bebop, the compositional complexity of Charles Mingus, the erudite swing of Duke Ellington, the emotional weight of the blues, the street level invention of doo-wop, and the driving repetition of funk. Be warned: This is not easygoing entertainment. The occasionally ponderous libretto repeatedly sacrifices dramatic conciseness for a self-important over-indulgence of mood, the theater is stuffy, the chairs are uncomfortable, and the piece could lose half an hour and gain some of the urgent momentum that fueled X's life. But sometimes it's worth it to meet a work of art halfway. This is avant-garde opera right in the heart of Oakland; all the noisemakers in ironic T-shirts who flock to the Stork Club should travel a few blocks out of their orbit and embrace the unfamiliar. Life and Times is a production that rewards a patient ear and an adventurous cultural intelligence.

About The Author

Frank Wortham

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