Kanye West premiered his debut opera “Nebuchadnezzar” at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday with rapper Sheck Wes in the title role — and it was as strange and occasionally awesome as you can imagine.
This, mind you, was not an opera that most people even knew existed a week ago. But when Kanye gets an idea, he goes for it, and so here we were for an opera based on the Old Testament Babylonian king with whom Kanye apparently feels a great affinity.
In an interview last month, West compared himself to Nebuchadnezzar, saying he saw similarities between himself and the old king.
This year, Kanye started holding Sunday Service performances on his Calabasas spread and brought the gospel-influenced hip-hop-and-praise show to Coachella on Easter Sunday. His album released in October is a gospel hip-hop record titled “Jesus Is King,” and the biblical opera follows in that vein.
So, let’s talk about what went down on Sunday at the Bowl, where the performance was set to begin at 4 p.m., with gates opening at 1:30 p.m., and, of course, neither of those things happened.
Early arrivals were kept outside the amphitheater while the performers — Sheck Wes, West’s Sunday Service choir, singer Peter Collins, and the group Infinity’s Song, continued rehearsing the show.
When I walked up at 4 p.m., choir members were in the parking lot behind the Bowl being distributed fresh pairs of West-designed Yeezy Boost sneakers to go with their all-cream or unbleached muslin-colored outfits.
Inside the gates half an hour later, crew members were spreading fruits and vegetables — Old Testament crops such as pomegranate, grapes, walnuts and persimmons — over a 20-foot long table.
And in the seats, people waited.
And waited. And waited.
Around 5:30 p.m., West tweeted a photo from backstage of Chance the Rapper and his entourage stopping by to wish him well. Tweets from the fans in the seats were mostly of the “c’mon and start this thing already” variety.
Finally, at 6:14 p.m., the choir filed on stage, some of them marching up and across a riser that looked like a giant sandstone croissant, the rest filling in the front of its open curve.
The musicians started to play and Wes, clad in purple robes in contrast to the choir’s pale hue, started to flail and scream around the stage. The choir sang what sounded like “misery” over and over.
Apparently Nebuchadnezzar is not well.
West, who never appeared on stage, narrated the text drawn from the Old Testament book of Daniel, from somewhere in the wings. Narrated while also live-tweeting a dozen photos of the yellow-highlighted Bible passages he was reading. Because, of course, he was.
The story, for those of you who may need a refresher, tells of Nebuchadnezzar conquering Jerusalem and bringing many of its people back to Babylonia. We saw choir members dragging other limp actors off the stage to demonstrate this.
The long table of colorful fruits and vegetables — purple cabbages really pop seen at a distance — gets rolled out along with one covered in grilled meat including lamb. Captives sit at the table to feast but one person, Daniel, is not down to dine at the king’s table, we are told.
Nebuchadnezzar starts to have dreams that freak him out. A guitarist strolls in stage along with a woman who sings in an operatic style.
Lyrics were few, or hard to decipher, with most of the singing seeming to be tones and harmonies, often quite lovely.
As King Neb dreamed, he sort of rolled back and forth across a rising and falling line of white-clad performers, one of several standout moments of stagecraft from director Vanessa Beecroft, who also collaborated with West in his fashion shows among other projects.
The king orders his soothsayers and astrologers and magicians to interpret his dream and when they can’t he throws a tantrum and orders their deaths.
Daniel is brought in to take a shot at it and “shew” the king the meaning of the dream, and while we admit to giggling at the use of the word “shew” over and over, that helped us to peg his likely Bible of choice to the King James translation.
Daniel nails the interpretation while the Sunday Service choir sings with truly impressive beauty.
What’s this now? Nebuchadnezzar orders a golden statue of himself — it’s rolled on stage and is pretty cool to see, an actor inside the shiny gold fabric atop the tall pedestal. He orders Daniel’s friends from Judea — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — to worship it.
They refuse, of course, and now we get the famous Bible scene where they’re thrown into the furnace. Nebuchadnezzar then freaks out and forgives them.
Soon he really loses his mind — and can we pause for a moment to praise Sheck Wes’s commitment to going nuts on stage? — goes into the wilderness to eat grass for a few years, and finally realizes that Daniel was right — glory to God, not any old king — and they all live happily ever after.
This last bit comes with not only the choir and actors on stage — probably 200 people or so right there — but also another 150 or 200 extras in matching costumes in the aisles of the bowl.
As Nebuchadnezzar’s soul is saved they all raise their arms aloft and West from offstage asks everyone to do the same. It’s an impressive sight actually, though really probably not what anyone would have thought they’d be doing at the Bowl on Sunday.
And that — after 55 minutes on stage (and live-streamed on Tidal), making this possibly the shortest opera in recorded history — was that.
At times, it seemed like there might not have been enough rehearsal time. As when West intoned, “And the king fell on his face!” — and then delivered the line two more times until Wes got the message and actually fell more or less on his face.
So was it actually an opera? Let’s say it’s more a choral performance art piece.
Was it something most Kanye fans are going to want to buy an album of? Uh, not so much. “Jesus Is King” has sold OK so far but there are far more comments of the “I like the old Kanye” variety on social media.
Does it show a Nebuchadnezzar-like sense of new-found humility in West himself? Hard to say.
But was it an event? Oh, absolutely it was that, and one the likes of which few but West would ever dream so wildly like Nebuchadnezzar to create.
Read more about Kanye West premieres debut opera ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ at Hollywood Bowl: Here’s what it was like This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed
Powered by WPeMatico