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|West gives Lincoln Center an opera for Christmas|
A scene from Mary, an opera by Kanye West, featuring his Sunday Service choir, at Lincoln Center in New York, Dec. 22, 2019. The choir sang the hip-hop stars hits and a handful of Christmas classics, all given the full gospel treatment for this 50-minute rendition of the Nativity story. The New York Times.
by Nancy Coleman
NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- David Geffen Hall was nearly full Sunday evening for Kanye Wests Mary, the hip-hop stars second venture into what he calls opera. But no one there seemed more enthralled with the performance than West himself.
Sitting downstage, bathed in golden light, he bopped his head and swayed in his seat as his Sunday Service choir sang his hits and a handful of Christmas classics, all given the full gospel treatment for this 50-minute rendition of the Nativity story.
But between the most stirring numbers, it was easy to get confused, caught in the chasm between a classical performance at Lincoln Center and an arena show. Was this a Kanye concert? A traditional opera? Was screaming We love you, Kanye in the darkness appropriate? (Yes, according to the tiny voice that hollered back from Kim Kardashian Wests box in the first tier: Kanyes my dad!)
Like Nebuchadnezzar, Wests first opera, which premiered in Los Angeles last month, Mary consisted of Sunday Service tunes interspersed with Wests recitation of Bible verses. Like Nebuchadnezzar, it was directed by his longtime collaborator, the artist Vanessa Beecroft. And like Nebuchadnezzar, it was announced with just a few days notice first its premiere in Miami on Dec. 8, and then this reprise at Lincoln Center. But there were some changes from Florida to New York: a full crop of what appeared to be grain sprouted from the stage, the costumes were significantly less reflective and no one entered on a speedboat.
Waiting outside before the show were some audience members who traveled internationally Mexico City, Tel Aviv, Stockholm and some who just took the 1 train; some who planned their trips intentionally around Mary and some who were in town by chance. There were longtime devotees and new admirers; fans focusing on Wests creative work rather than his recent political leanings; and some who were decidedly not fans at all. Heres why they went.
Diane and Nicole Matthews
Diane Matthews was among the first ticket holders to gather at Geffen Hall on Sunday although she knew the performance would probably fall outside her musical comfort zone.
Im not even a Kanye fan, she said. Im a jazz fan.
Shed been to the opera before Porgy and Bess but never to a Kanye concert. Her daughter was the opposite: Nicole Matthews has seen West live, but never a traditional opera.
They came to Mary by way of a family connection: Dianes goddaughter is part of the Sunday Service choir.
Her mom posted a video, shes posted videos, Diane said. I dont know, I just need to see for myself.
Nicole first heard about Sunday Service when West brought the group to a Queens church in September. Her cousin was there, recording on her phone.
I was like, I have to be a part of it, Nicole said.
Sam and Alisa Scherban
Sam Scherban, 16, is a burgeoning Kanye opera expert. He watched the live streams of both operas West has put on so far: Nebuchadnezzar in Los Angeles and the premiere of Mary in Miami.
It was bizarre, he said of the first Mary performance, but it was cool.
But he still wasnt really sure what Mary was going to be in person. Thats why Alisa Scherban, his mother, came along.
Its hard to get others to join him on this venture of not being sure what to expect, Alisa Scherban said. Theyre all like, Im not spending money on that ticket. I dont know what it is.
Chris Pearson was drawn to Wests opera out of curiosity. He knew the talk that Mary was generating. And Wests recent moves into gospel have drawn some controversy, he said.
Its a completely new person, Pearson added.
He first heard about Mary through Instagram. Pearson had been to a West concert before, but watching videos of the opera online was something different.
It was church, you know? he said. Instead of traditional church, it was New Age church.
Max Shutze and Daniel Blaustein
Max Shutze remembers where he and Daniel Blaustein were in October, when West released Jesus Is King: in the same math class, where the two high school juniors listened to the album together.
Two months later, Shutzes father gave him tickets to Mary as an early Christmas present. Blaustein, 16, tagged along. (He said his family wasnt bothered by him spending the first night of Hanukkah at an opera about Jesus birth. They thought it was great, Blaustein said an awesome opportunity.)
Shutze read up ahead of time on the opera and its story. He looked at photos on Instagram of West and the ensemble at the Miami premiere, dressed and painted entirely in silver. (At Lincoln Center, the group opted for more muted Yeezy-esque shades of brown.)
Blaustein was slightly less prepared.
I saw the memes with the silver people, he said. Its not that Im not expecting much, but I dont really know what to expect. Im very open-minded.
Cassin Parks, 19, has been a huge fan of West for years, she said. She gets an alert every time he posts on Twitter.
So when Parks saw his tweet Tuesday announcing the Lincoln Center show, she jumped on it, and drove up from Philadelphia on Sunday.
Ive never seen him before, and I figured hes not really touring, so this is the best opportunity Im going to get, she said.
Parks went to an opera in Philadelphia once, when she was little, but didnt remember what it was. She wasnt quite certain what Mary would be, either.
I know that some of his old music is in it, but hes not the one performing it because he has that whole I-dont-perform-my-old-music thing, she said. But I dont know, I know that its like the Nativity story, right? Thats about it.
But clarity wasnt essential. Parks was mainly excited about one thing.
It sounds crazy, she said, but just being in the same room as Kanye West.
© 2019 The New York Times Company
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