Our admittedly snarky tweet last week, commenting on the sudden arrival of an opera by none other than Kanye West, was more a reaction to his recent interview with Joel Osteen than anything else. Be warned: self-identify as the greatest artist ever, and we’re likely to respond.
News flash: Opera's long drought of sizable egos is coming to an end. Kanye West is here to save the day, after proclaiming himself "the greatest artist that God has ever created". What a relief! https://t.co/ForgU4vEn3— Lauri's List (@laurislist) November 19, 2019
The new work premiered hard on the heels of its Nov 18 announcement: the performance took place at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday night, November 24, and hasn’t gotten a great reception, in or out of the actual opera world. The Lister-on-the-scene stories on Facebook and elsewhere are surprisingly similar: our members in the audience report that while there was plenty of excitement and a few celeb sitings (Brad & Alia!), the fact that the show started 2 hours and 15 minutes late and then only lasted an hour was frustrating, and the show was underwhelming in general. The cast was huge, yet Kanye himself was heard (narrating) and not seen until the end. It has also been reported by the (very gossipy) Radar Online that the house was well-“papered”, with nearly 5,000 tickets comped.
That’s the casual scuttlebutt. Here are a few links to reviewers from publications spread far and wide (randomly selected from top search results), who said many of the same things:
New York Times: “Kanye West Is Operatic. His Opera Isn’t.“
…and chiming in from what should be the more friendly pop culture world, here’s a round-up from Complex, which still isn’t too flattering: “Here’s What Went Down at Kanye West’s ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ Opera at Hollywood Bowl“
The biggest difficulty here might just be semantic: if Kanye hadn’t called this an “opera”, the project wouldn’t have been under nearly so much scrutiny, and might have had a chance of being judged on whatever merits it contains. There are still enormous problems across the production, including rumors that the many cast members weren’t paid close to enough for the time commitment, if they were paid at all. (We hope that travesty is just rumor, and would be happy to update this post if the producers would care to provide us with actual facts. We haven’t heard back from them yet.)
As our regular readers know, we’re big fans of the crossover, and love to see artists of all kinds try new things, collaborate with others, and push tradition-bound barriers. But there are lessons to be learned here, such as:
- Don’t rush it: Take enough time to craft the work and make the performance good.
- Take your audience seriously. Don’t keep them waiting for unreasonable periods!
- Resist labels if you can. Grab the one that appeals to you, and it may attract attention that you’re not ready for.
- Claiming humility isn’t enough. Self-awareness and sensitivity to how your work affects others are absolutely essential. Be audacious, but make it about the work, and keep that ego downsized. It’s not all about you.
Whether the artist in question has learned anything has yet to be seen. Here’s hoping. If there’s one thing that a Kanye West opera has proven, it’s that anything can happen.
Wanna hear it for yourself?
A little taste: TMZ shared a short clip (about 3% of the total), featuring actual writhing and wailing by rapper Sheck Wes, who played the title role.
…and the full opera is streaming on Kanye’s Tidal channel: Click here (subscription required, free trial available)