It has been a season of many firsts for Kanye West. The rapper made his first appearance on Billboard’s Top Christian and Top Gospel album charts this month with “Jesus Is King,” his first gospel album. He spoke for the first time at America’s largest church last Sunday.
Now, the musician appears to be tackling another milestone ― his first opera.
On Sunday, West announced via Twitter the upcoming performance of “a Kanye West opera,” titled “Nebuchadnezzar.” The show is scheduled for Nov. 24 at the nearly 18,000-seat Hollywood Bowl amphitheater in Los Angeles.
The opera will be directed by Vanessa Beecroft, a British Italian performance artist known for her dramatic tableaux vivants featuring large numbers of nude or semi-nude models. Beecroft, who has collaborated with West on his videos, concerts and fashion shows since 2008, has said she thinks of West as her alter-ego. She has drawn criticism for repeatedly appearing to fetishize race in her comments on art and the world.
Details about the opera’s plot are sparse. It appears to be named for Nebuchadnezzar, a king who ruled over Babylonia in the 6th century BCE. The king makes appearances in the Bible, most prominently in the Book of Daniel, where he is portrayed as a wealthy, capricious man troubled by vivid dreams. According to the text, the Prophet Daniel, an exiled Jewish scholar, is the only person in the king’s court able to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. Daniel predicts that the king will descend into madness for some time and that his kingdom (and sanity) will only be restored to him when he acknowledges the superiority of Daniel’s God. The Scriptures say that Daniel’s predictions came true and that Nebuchadnezzar did eventually “glorify the King of heaven.”
West, who has spoken about his struggle with bipolar disorder in the past, sees similarities between his story and Nebuchadnezzar’s. In an interview with Apple Music’s Beats 1 in October, he said that God is using him as a “Nebuchadnezzar-type character” to show off.
“Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon, and he looked at his entire kingdom and said, ‘I did this.’ And God said, ‘Oh, for real, you did this?’ Sounds kind of similar, right?” West said. “I’m standing on the tip of the mountain talking about Yeezus, saying, ‘I did this. I’m a God.’”
This isn’t the first time this particular Bible story has been put to music. The Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi turned Nebuchadnezzar’s story into an opera in 1842. In that retelling of the story, Nebuchadnezzar declares himself to be a god and is immediately punished for his blasphemy with a thunderbolt from the heavens. His sanity is later restored when he prays to the God of Israel for forgiveness.
West has been musically reflecting on his Christian beliefs since his debut album in 2004. But he recently started to cast himself as an evangelist who is wholly dedicated to spreading the Gospel. His public declarations of faith (and conservatism) have delighted some Christian leaders and sparked comparisons to the Apostle Paul, an early Christian figure who had a dramatic conversion experience.
This past Sunday, West was invited to speak and perform at Lakewood Church, televangelist Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch. During his conversation with the preacher, West revealed that he’d received visions from God when he was hospitalized for mental health treatment in 2016. West told Osteen that during this time, he drew a picture of a church and wrote about wanting to start a church near his Calabasas, California, home.
The rapper started hosting pop-up religious events, which he calls Sunday Service, on his property in January. Since then, he’s brought the performances to churches and other venues across the country.
West told Osteen that his trademark “arrogance and confidence and cockiness” is now being used for God.
“Every time I stand up, I feel that I’m standing up and drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘I’m here in service to God, and no weapon formed against me shall prosper,’” West said at Lakewood.
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