Here’s What Happened in Kanye West’s Opera Nebuchadnezzar


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Kanye West wasn’t front and center on the Hollywood Bowl stage until the debut performance of his opera Nebuchadnezzar reached its curtain call. He clasped hands with Sheck Wes, who starred in the opera’s title role, and bowed in front of a massive team of singers and performers. Kanye served as the show’s offstage narrator, moving the opera forward by reading from the Book of Daniel. As he went, he tweeted photos of his highlighted Bible, if you’d like to know the story yourself.

The term “opera” wasn’t being used lightly in the performance’s billing. Vanessa Beecroft, who has worked with Kanye numerous times (perhaps most notably as art director of the “Runaway” video), was the director of an elaborately staged performance featuring operatic singers, a choir in matching robes standing on an elevated horseshoe-shaped structure, hordes of robed performers lining the aisles of the Hollywood Bowl, narrative theatrics, costumes, masks, massive slabs of fruit, and so much more. The story in question followed Nebuchadnezzar’s “transition from wicked, imperious, self-declared ruler to a true believer who finds salvation in his faith,” and the drama on stage followed the beats of the Kanye-narrated story closely.

While the majority of the music from Nebuchadnezzar was new and original, familiar music from Kanye’s catalog was peppered into the operatic and choral performances. The hook from his Life of Pablo song “Wolves” was sung by the choir and prominently featured in the second half. Sheck Wes’ “Mo Bamba” and the 808s & Heartbreak song “Say You Will” were also listed in the setlist Kanye tweeted before the show began. Other titles included “Eternal Rest,” “Our King,” and “Wash Us in the Blood.”

There were minor hiccups, like when Kanye narrated that Nebuchadnezzar “fell upon his face” three different times while Sheck Wes neglected to fall on his face. The audience audibly laughed and Kanye could be heard chuckling. The show also began two hours after the billed start time, prompting fans to restlessly chant “we want Kanye.” When the show began, they didn’t get Kanye in the flesh—just his booming voice presiding over an ornate performance with striking visuals and a huge number of collaborators.

Some fans walked away disappointed, telling a Pitchfork reporter in attendance they were expecting to hear more of the music of his recent album Jesus Is King. Others walked away emphatically discussing their appreciation of the show. “I really loved it and I have a newfound respect for Kanye,” said 31-year-old John Vic. “I’m going to start attending Sunday Service.”

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