Kanye West Is Joining Forces With Artist Vanessa Beecroft to Create a Wild Opera About a Mad Babylonian King

‘Nebuchadnezzar’ premieres November 24, and features a Christian pop quintet called Infinity's Dream

Invitation to Nebuchadnezzar: A Kanye West Opera (2019).
Invitation to Nebuchadnezzar: A Kanye West Opera (2019).

Yesterday, Kanye West had some very special news to announce via Twitter: He’s created an opera that will premiere at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on November 24. It’s called Nebuchadnezzar: A Kanye West Opera, and it will be directed by Italian performance artist Vanessa Beecroft, one of the rapper’s longtime collaborators.

West’s career has become extremely and evangelically religious over the past few years, from his gospel-style “Sunday Services” (the latest of which was held at Joel Osteen’s 50,000-capacity mega-church) to his 9th album, Jesus Is King. But an opera called Nebuchadnezzar is no departure from this spiritual path.

Nebuchadnezzar II was the king of Babylon from 605 BC to 562 BC. Though he was a real person, he is better known for the fictionalized version of his reign as relayed in the Bible. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes  version: Known early on in the Old Testament as the “destroyer of nations,” Nebuchadnezzar II features prominently in the Book of Daniel, where he conquers Jerusalem and selects Daniel to serve him. He then tasks Daniel to interpret a horrible dream he had, without telling Daniel what the dream was. Daniel has a vision and interprets the king’s dream; Nebuchadnezzar II is impressed, so he praises Daniel’s Hebrew God. Later, Nebuchadnezzar II suffers a period of madness. West has previously said that he sees himself as a kind of Nebuchadnezzar for the 21st century.

How does Beecroft fit into all of this? West has collaborated with her on several occasions since 2008, when they launched a performance around his 808s & Heartbreaks album at Ace Gallery in Los Angeles. They have since joined forces on West’s music videos and live set design, as well as several seasons of West’s Yeezy fashion line with Adidas.

Beecroft’s collaborations with West have left many people scratching their heads, particularly her presentation for Yeezy Season 3 in 2016, where a giant tarp on stage was raised, revealing models in West’s earthtone designs. They stood around for hours, pa together. Beecroft has said her staging of the presentations was inspired by a Paul Lowe photograph of a refugee camp during the Rwandan genocide, in which the Hutus crammed into the camp as a protest against the Tutsi soldiers who had opened fire on a Hutu town the previous day: “I wanted to show to America a picture of poverty, of the poor America,” she told ARTnews. “My intention was to show the third world that is here.”

Beecroft has come under fire for her attempt to adopt Sudanese orphan babies for use in her art, and for the use of blackface in her work. Despite the fact that she was accused of these things before her collaborations with West began, she has come to lean on West lately to excuse her artistic indulgences, which have been labeled racist by many. “I am protected by Kanye’s talent,” she told W Magazine in 2016. “I become Black. I am no longer Vanessa Beecroft and I am free to do whatever I want because Kanye allows it.”

A digital flyer for the opera, designed by fashion photographer Nick Knight, spells out further details. The performance will feature music by West’s Sunday Service group; British record producer Peter Collins (who produced Rush, Bon Jovi, and Alice Cooper); and Christian pop quintet Infinity’s Song.


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