Kanye West Is Operatic. His Opera Isn’t.


There was something intriguing about West having Nebuchadnezzar (played by the young rapper Sheck Wes, whose song “Mo Bamba” went viral last year) express himself largely in screams and moans, a vision of masculinity rendered unintelligible by its own toxicity. A male soloist seemed to be portraying Daniel, though for some reason there was also a female soloist singing much of the same music — mostly wordless and hyper-operatically soaring, in an Andrea Bocelli kind of way.

Occasional harsh, buzzing electronic tones, recalling the grim industrial production of West’s 2013 album “Yeezus,” offered glimpses of a grittier musical engagement with this subject matter. But the sounds in general — most new, though the lonely hook of “Wolves,” from “The Life of Pablo” (2016), figured in the textures — were more ingratiating, with Latin dance beats, warm strings, and gentle singer-songwriterish guitar fingering that felt unconnected to the ostensibly intense story.

There was little text, and it was nearly impossible to make it out from the audience; a musicologist watching a livestream of the performance said on Twitter that she had heard “Lux aeterna” and “Rex gloriae,” which are phrases from the Requiem mass, and “Animus deum,” which is not. The smoke-shrouded staging, directed by the performance auteur Vanessa Beecroft, a longtime West collaborator, only intermittently clarified matters or offered her characteristic immaculate polish. There was a thrown-together quality to the show that wasn’t without charm but was nevertheless, especially given the price of some of the tickets, disappointing.

The most impressive sequence involved the statue that Nebuchadnezzar orders built for worship. Here it was an actor on a large plinth, draped in shiny gold fabric, a vision of moving sculpture as eerie and elegant as Beecroft’s best work. But otherwise the stage was cluttered and awkward, with pantomime battles and swirling circular dances crowded into the uneasy stasis.

None of this would automatically disqualify “Nebuchadnezzar” as opera: There are wordless operas, spoken operas, unclear operas. There has even been room in the art form for another abstract meditation on an ancient leader’s religious awakening: Philip Glass’s “Akhnaten” is running at the Metropolitan Opera through Dec. 7.





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