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Diamanda Galas Live at NY’s St. Thomas the Apostle Church

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St. Thomas the Apostle Church is a beautiful neo-Gothic structure on W. 118th St. in Harlem that boasts stained glass designed by Munich’s renowned Frantz Meyer Studios and more than a century of neighborhood history. The Catholic Archdiocese closed the parish in 2003 citing reduced attendance and the need for spending millions in structural renovations. It has since stood under the constant threat of demolition and endless back-and-forth about whether or not it deserves landmark status. Last week though, the church was host to the force-of-nature that is Diamanda Galas, who played three shows at the venue as part of the Redbull Music Academy. The beauty and narrative of the long-suffering church was a good fit for the Galas’ eerie and elegant music, with it’s woeful themes.

The setup inside was primitive: too many little black plastic chairs crammed together in the sanctuary, and it quickly became standing room only. This was to be expected, as Galas hadn’t performed in NYC in eight years. The crowd, clad mostly in black, was reverent and funereal in awaiting her entry (possibly because the seating arrangement made it difficult to breathe). All attempts at making conversation with my fellow goth sardines were met with hushed but feverish anticipatory proclamations lauding Galas’ genius.

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She entered with little fanfare, briefly acknowledging her rapt congregants before settling in on the dramatically underlit grand piano. Moments later, her unique voice, which is speculated to span as many as eight octaves, soared in soprano from the fog that engulfed her at the altar. The man beside me began crying quietly.

The night’s performance, titled “Death Will Come and Will Have Your Eyes,” is an aria inspired by Cesare Pavese’s poem of the same name, “Verrà La Morte E Avrà I Tuoi Occhi.” It included pieces in French, German, Greek, Italian, and a little English and she pulled out all the vocal stops in spinning her dark tale. Haunting, dissonant operatic highs gave way to her signature menacing screeches, howls and growls which seemed to make the very pillars of Saint Thomas the Apostle’s architecture shiver.

—Blair Hopkins

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