Diamanda Galas has, since the late-'70s, established herself as the high priestess of vocal apocalypse, the avatar of a new "sonic theatre." In terms of quality, she seems to run hot and cold. Her past work has included the brilliant, revelatory "plague Mass," which invoked biblical and ancient Greek texts to excoriate those responsible for the spread of AIDS and to lament its victims. This was followed by the wretchedly self-indulgent "Insekta" at Lincoln Center, which proved why performance artists should never be allowed to get their hands on that kind of money.
She is at her best when seeming to exorcise some savage demon within and connect to it a greater metapathology equally ravenous within society. In evoking primal, almost elemental spiritual forces, she often amplifies her already violently stentorian voice to decibel levels not generally encountered outside of air raid sirens.
Schrei X's text is by Galas with excerpts from the Book of Job and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Five microphones carried her voice through a quadraphonic sound system and out onto (or, sometimes, against) the audience. The work's themes of torture, both physical and emotional, and the spiritual shedding it entails was grippingly realized by Galas in her delivery. With the 11 segments of the work having titles like "Headbox," "Cunt," "Vein," "Smell," and "He Schock Die," the audience is taken through an aural journey that imparts a sense of redemption through fire.
And, as previously stated, Galas can blow a spectator through the back wall of a theatre with the combination of her hellacious vocals and flaming physica1 aura. The lines "Even after my skin is flayed,/Without my flesh I shall see God" fly through the air like shards of glass from a shattered cathedral window smashed in righteous fury.
This was not just an avant-garde concert, but theatre in an almost Beckett-esque mode, stripped down to barest essentials.
The piece was performed in total darkness with just the smallest of lights at the lectern at which Galas stood. The black veil combined with the Zen-like silences between segments to heighten the text's emotional impact. Kudos are also due to Blaise Dupuy's sound design.
Galas's physical presence was also a part of the show. Clad in her leather witch/cycle-chick get-up, she looked the part of a dangerous force of nature.
Copyright 1996 John Michael Koroly
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