Few other artists have been battling their demons as publicly as Kanye West. With the opera "Mary", West proves that he fought some of them off.
Kanye West’s “Mary” has restored my faith. Not in God, but in Kanye. His last three releases did not match his stellar record of forward-thinking instant classics. “Ye” was a solid album that did not break any new ground, “KSG” was in similar territory. And his latest full-length release, “Jesus is King” felt rushed and incomplete.
“Mary” on the other hand, is as tight as Barbara Bush’s ass walking through a crack den. The work does not boil down to any of the tropes that some recent Kanye situations have made us fear. It is not a polemic, a possible joke, or under-wrought. It is a work of art by a real genius and it is as layered and loaded as one could want.
Lincoln Center, like much of America, was built on a capitalist white supremacist model. 1 Kanye brings in an all-black choir, orchestra, and conductor into this temple of high American (white) culture.
The orchestra and choir form a group of black sonic angels. They took “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and elevated it through the cannon of church music, both black and European, to places every Kanye fan could appreciate, from the streets to the priests. This was a pivotal moment in the production and lends credence to Kanye’s claim that he is done with secular music and dedicating his life to Christ. He has put a song about his arrogance, wealth, and conquests to the service of art and God.
The Sunday Service Choir works a miracle with the rapture they bring to the melody of “The Little Drummer Boy.” They take a decidedly tame tune, written in 1940 by a white American woman, Katherine Kennecott Davis, and infuse it with Hip Hop. They make “Ra Pa Pa Pum” bang.
The original melodies, both religious and secular, are interpreted by the choir and orchestra in a moving and brilliant manner. They worked seamlessly with Vanessa Beecroft’s direction and Jacob Jonas's choreography.
The set, a mise-en-scene of bulrushes and a circular foil floor mirror were like a pair of Yeezy’s, spare but on brand, and supportive of remarkable talent. The dancers fill in the space that would normally be occupied by props. The central characters, Mary, Joseph, Elisabeth, and the Three Wise Men move with a dignity and seriousness that fits the scripture Kanye reads from. The peripheral dancers’ undulation, adulation, and focus around the main characters is like a halo of bodies, beautiful and shining.
Kanye is not perfect and he doesn’t fit into liberal white America’s idea of what a black man should be. In fact, he doesn’t fit into many people’s idea of what an artist should be. Among his many detractors, he is often charged with not being the genius he claims to be, crazy, and shallow. Not only did Kanye put on the show of a titan, but his values followed him into the venue. He brought his children to the opera tonight, they seemed genuinely happy and joyful telling the audience and the world how much they loved them. He glorified the God he believes in and was humble in his work, literally sitting on stage and reading from the bible.
1 “The project displaced more than 7,000 lower-class families and 800 businesses. Few, if any, of the 4,400 new housing units were intended for the area’s previous residents, who were almost exclusively black and Hispanic. Even worse, the relocation assistance promised by the committee never materialized.” Williams Keith, New York Times, December 21, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/21/nyregion/how-lincoln-center-was-built-it-wasnt-pretty.html