Kanye West’s “opera” at David Geffen Hall, aka Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center was supposed to start at 8pm last night. “Mary,” named for the virgin mother, began instead at 9:15pm. But okay, we know it’s Kanye.
“Mary” is not an opera. It’s maybe an oratorio, or just a piece of eccentric entertainment. It does not meet the minimum requirement for an opera. The characters aren’t delineated and it has no songs. It has no actual dialogue, either.
Last night, “Mary” played to a full house nonetheless. People paid $300 to sit in the orchestra, $200 to sit upstairs. It lasted exactly one hour. When it over, I have never seen a theater clear out so quickly in all my life. Poof! they were gone. Gone.That was a lot of money for one hour.
“Mary” retells the story of Jesus’s virgin conception and birth. Kanye narrated, reading the libretto aloud. It sounded like he’d never seen the words before at all. He stumbled over them, mispronouncing several including the word “Israel.” He called “Is-rah-eel.” Yikes.
At one point, Kanye shouted over the music: “No trumpet here.” The audience broke into laughter.
Most of the music– none of which Kanye wrote– was provided by a very large, enthusiastic choir. They actually provided a lovely harmonic background to the proceedings. But that is not an opera. In an opera, characters emerge to tell a story. They have songs, there are musical themes. “Mary” lacked all of that. So we were basically left with Kanye’s awkward reading of the libretto, and the choir’s repetitive harmonic underpinning.
The orchestra, I was told later, combined three local bands, none of whom had played together before last night. That said, they meshed together for a kind of interesting interweaving of jazz, gospel, and Broadway. The horn section plays with Celine Dion, I was told.
You must take this seriously. Even though Kanye didn’t write or direct the show, or write the music, he is its impresario. He gave away 300 tickets to a children’s charity to fill the room. He may have given away more than that to other groups. Let’s say he sold 2,000 seats at $300 a pop. That’s not enough to pay for this extravaganza. Did he underwrite it? Unclear.
Some notes: It was the first time I’ve ever smelled pot in Avery Fisher Hall. I asked an usher who agreed, it was a first. The smell was pungent. Even though the show was scheduled for 8pm officially, people were wandering in after 9:15. Did they just guess? Good for them. There were at least 4 long, long lines for beverages, mostly alcoholic, in the orchestra lobby. They were still serving guests when the show started. The only celebrity I saw was Michael Che from “Saturday Night Live.” Maybe there were others.
When the lights went down, West’s small children — North and Saint– were apparently seated in the front row. They began shouting at the darkened stage, prompting people near them in the audience to shout back. This went on for some time.
Will Kanye offer an album of his various operas? Or videos? He should. The cumulative effect can only be dealt with that way. But again, if his fans want to pay for the tickets, why not try this and a lot of other stage presentations? They take a leap of faith and a lot of chutzpah. He has the capacity for mountains of each.