Music in Review; Diamanda Galas
By Bernard Holland
The Kitchen 512 West 19th Street
Diamanda Galas’s “Plague Mass” has a pliancy that allows it to shrink or swell on demand. In October, Ms. Galas staged her raging one-woman jeremiad about AIDS at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, using the size and vast echo of this church to achieve a kind of distant grandeur — a cryptoliturgical ambiance colored by the sensationalism of a stadium rock concert.
Now she has taken her 12-part recitation of singing, shrieks, expectorating shouts and mumbles to the Kitchen. The first performance was on Wednesday evening, and Ms. Galas can be seen again tomorrow, Tuesday, Thursday and next Saturday.
In this decidedly smaller space, Ms. Galas retains the basic props of altar, pulpit and baptismal font (from which she bathes herself with symbolic blood). There are also the carefully honed lighting and recorded accompaniments. The first casts her bare-breasted body in various lurid colors. The second offers pounding drums, hospital-like sound effects and Ms. Galas’s own voice, with the latter offering occasional respite from her intense real-time labors.
Extravagance is Ms. Galas’s stock in trade; anger is her fuel. Her resentment — toward an unjust God, a prejudiced clergy and a persecuting public — is released by an original style that grows directly from black gospel music and preaching, in which traditional barriers between song and raw emotion are breached. At her best, Ms. Galas offers a hair-raising sense of anguish and is probably more suited to this smaller, subtler space — one that permits moments of quiet bewilderment to go along with the screams of pain.
The edge of violence in every sound Ms. Galas makes expresses both her great purgative powers and her spiritual limitations. For she operates here in a world where healing is needed and there is little healing in hatred and indignation alone. Violence takes no sides. Like a stray dog, it is ready to take up with the next master who comes along.