Galas gives provocative show

by Susan Zieger | 11/24/93 6:00am

A spotlight parts the darkness, revealing a muscular female figure, black hair amuck and bared torso slick with what appears to be blood.

"Were you a witness?" she intones throatily, then commences to sing, shriek, whisper, cackle, gasp and ululate, conjuring visions of a soul in hell. This was the scene last night as performance artist Diamanda Galas brought her furious, heartfelt and piercingly intense brand of performance art to Spaulding Auditorium.

Galas, a cultural activist whose work has focused on the AIDS epidemic, combined her operatically trained, three-and-a-half-octave voice with an explosive fury in the performance of her latest stage production "Judgement Day."

After the opening sequence titled "There Are No More Tickets To The Funeral," and an intermission, Galas returned to accompany herself on the piano to blues tunes such as Otis Rush's "My Love Will Never Die" and Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You," songs that took on an eschatological dimension.

Galas' voice nearly defies description in its continuous metamorphosis from operatic high notes to growling drawls and bone-shattering screams, often in a single musical phrase. In this way she radically reworks traditional blues and gospel songs to render them more haunting and otherworldly, defying predictability.

Galas' previous major work was "Plague Mass," a multi-part piece dealing with the AIDS epidemic and the "plague mentality." In the piece she condemns the idea that AIDS is divine retribution for sexual perversity and uses biblical quotes to illustrate the horrors of an indifferent society.

Despite critical acclaim in the U.S. and concert tours that have crisscrossed Europe, Galas' controversial work has nevertheless encountered opposition. Members of the Italian government denounced her as a blasphemer of the Roman Catholic Church.

That Galas' work is reaching wider audiences is evidenced not only by her appearance at Dartmouth but by the large turnout. Spaulding Auditorium was nearly full.

"Plague Mass," which includes segments of "Judgement Day," is available on Galas' latest compact disc titled "The Singer."

Two unseen stars of Galas' performance were Dan Kotlowitz, who engineered the lighting effects that at times made Galas look eerily like a photographic negative; and Eric Liljestrand, who supervised sound effects.

Diamanda Galas is a performer of astounding virtuousity who can thrill an audience. Hopefully her next concert tour will again include the Hopkins Center in its list of venues.