Kanye West has been receiving considerable buzz with his recent album release, Jesus Is King, and re-introduction and dedication to the Christian faith. To further solidify his commitment to his religion, West composed an opera that retells the story of biblical figure Nebuchadnezzar. The first and so-far only viewing of this opera occurred on Sunday, Nov. 24 at the Hollywood Bowl and I was among thousands of excited fans waiting in anticipation for what Kanye would bring to the stage.
Truthfully, I am not familiar with the story of Nebuchadnezzar. My knowledge of the Bible extends to only the most popular stories with a few lesser-known ones sprinkled in. Nonetheless, I was extremely curious to see what kind of performance was in store for us. I absolutely love the opera—the clothes, the music, the singing, the dramatics—I live for it all. So, when I heard that Kanye West of all people was trying his hand at operatic composing, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
In true Kanye fashion, the performance started quite late. The 4 p.m. showtime ended up starting a little past 6 p.m. Anxious, bored audience members would occasionally yell out into the Bowl, “Kanye! Start the opera!” I chuckled knowing full well that things would kick off only when Kanye wanted it to and not a second before.
It was a particularly cold November night that evening and I remember watching in awe as the chorus began filing onstage donning signature Kanye wear that may or may not have been from his Yeezy line? Once the performance began, it became apparent that this performance would be slightly different than the classic operas I had grown accustomed to. Rather than having the plot told through arias, singing and music, Kanye took a backseat role and served as narrator, reading Bible passages to drive the tale of Nebuchadnezzar forward. Hidden behind a piano, he sat hunched over, microphone in hand as he read from his script, his voice booming throughout the amphitheater. Obviously, West was very good at conveying the emotion that was contained in the words. My only problem was that the content was difficult to follow and honestly, at times, boring.
But, to be fair, a number of audience members, including myself, were not actually there for the retelling of the Bible. Rather, we were there for the music and pure intrigue. The music, for me, did not disappoint. Kanye employed some world-class choral and operatic vocalists to deliver soaring melodies and intense chants. Director Vanessa Beecroft and the performance artists did an excellent job putting on a stunning visual display. While I really could not follow the plot—I don’t think I ever knew what was going on—I did enjoy watching and listening to all the performers. However, the opera itself was surprisingly short—around 50 minutes—and it left me wondering if that was really all there was to it.
All in all, it was an interesting venture into Christian-themed opera and while I was thoroughly entertained by the quality of talent, I was definitely left expecting more. Here’s to hoping future presentations of Nebuchadnezzar offer up an easier to follow and lengthier plot that a diverse audience would enjoy seeing.