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A Malcolm X opera will get a rare revival in Detroit
Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde in Michigan Opera Theater’s “Twilight: Gods,” presented as a drive-though show in a parking garage in Detroit, Oct. 17, 2020. Michigan Opera Theater announced the return of indoor performances and named Christine Goerke as associate artistic director. Brittany Greeson/The New York Times.

DETROIT (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- When Anthony Davis’ sprawling, genre-blending biographical opera “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” premiered in 1986 at New York City Opera, it drew a notably diverse audience and was considered a commercial success. Yet it has rarely been revived.

A new production is coming, though, as part of Michigan Opera Theater’s 2021-22 season — the first under its new artistic director, Yuval Sharon. Opening in May 2022, “X” will be directed by Robert O’Hara (“Slave Play”) and star bass-baritone Davóne Tines, who will also be the season’s artist-in-residence.

“My first interview for this job was shortly after the murder of George Floyd,” Sharon, who is also an innovative stage director, said in an interview. “I thought: This is a moment for change. Casting singers of color is really easy, but my focus has been on composers, librettists, conductors. I’m thinking about this season as a statement of principles, and that’s what I hope for going forward.”

As part of the season announcement, on Tuesday, Michigan Opera Theater also said that Christine Goerke, a reigning Wagnerian soprano who sang the role of Brünnhilde last fall in “Twilight: Gods” — Sharon’s drive-through abridgment of “Götterdämmerung” in a Detroit parking garage — would join next season as associate artistic director.

In an interview, Goerke said that her family would be moving from New Jersey to Detroit, where she has relatives. But, aware that the news of her appointment might surprise fans of her performances, she clarified that she didn’t plan to reduce her performance schedule any time soon.

“I’m not stepping away from singing,” she said. “I’m stepping toward what’s going to come eventually.”

“I’ve been doing this for 27 years,” she added. “We’re always thinking about what’s next. And I want to be on the other side of the desk. My relationship to opera is not going to end when I’m done singing.”

All of the productions next season come with backup plans, as the course of the coronavirus pandemic appears hopeful yet is still uncertain. But what Michigan Opera Theater unveiled Tuesday puts off a return to live indoor performances at the Detroit Opera House until at least April 2022.

Until then, productions will be staged outdoors or at unconventional venues. The season will open May 15 with a concert performance of Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana,” with Goerke making her role debut as Santuzza. It will be presented at the Meadow Brook Amphitheater in Rochester Hills, Michigan, and conducted by Detroit Symphony Orchestra music director Jader Bignamini.

In September, Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson’s opera “Blue,” about a family in Harlem navigating the American Black experience, will receive a new production, by Kaneza Schaal, following its premiere at the Glimmerglass Festival in 2019; Daniela Candillari will conduct. The location and timing have not yet been determined, but the following production, staged by Sharon, will be “Bliss,” Ragnar Kjartansson’s marathon performance piece that loops the same three minutes from Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” for 12 hours.

Michigan Opera Theater will return indoors Feb. 26 for Robert Xavier Rodríguez and Migdalia Cruz’s “Frida,” conducted by Suzanne Mallare Acton, the company’s assistant music director. It will be a revival of Jose Maria Condemi’s 2015 staging, performed at Music Hall in downtown Detroit.

Then the company will return to its theater, the Detroit Opera House, on April 2, for Sharon’s production of “La Bohème,” conducted by Vimbayi Kaziboni. The concept is something Sharon has discussed in interviews before: He will present the four acts of Puccini’s opera in reverse.

“The reverse order means that we’re starting with death, and ending with love and hope,” he said. “We’ll all be coming from a place of death — at least I hope that this will be post-COVID. And I love that this thing everyone is hearing, the first thing in the theater in two years, is something they’ve never heard.”

“X,” in a newly revised score by Davis, will bring the season to a close in May, conducted by Kazem Abdullah. Writing for The New Yorker after Davis won the Pulitzer Prize for Music last year, musicologist Ryan Ebright noted that the opera had received only one full revival, at Oakland Opera Theater, in 2006. San Francisco Opera once suggested that “X” be staged as part of its inner-city parks performances, and Davis countered by asking whether they would put on Philip Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach” in a park.

“I tried to make them realize,” Davis told Ebright, “that it’s about time that America got over thinking of Black art as being what’s done in the playground or what’s basically the social-service part of culture.”

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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