Antony and the Johnsons/Britten Sinfonia Royal Opera House 25/26 July 2013
25 July 2013

Antony Hegarty and Britten Sinfonia at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Antony and the Johnsons wow the crowd at London�s Royal Opera House as they bring their masterful �Swanlights� show to the UK.
Swanlights is a performance piece that was first curated by New York�s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in early 2012. It brings together a selection of songs from Antony and the Johnsons� back-catalogue and a light show designed and developed by Chris Levine and Paul Normandale on a set created by Carl Robertshaw. The orchestral arrangements of the songs were developed by Anthony Hegarty (of �and the Johnsons) alongside Nico Muhly, Maxim Moston and Rob Moose, the latter of whom conducted the performance at the Royal Opera House. Since leaving MoMA, Swanlights has only been performed at the Melbourne Festival.

Considering Antony Hegarty�s stance on current religion, it was both bizarre and comforting to find Swanlights to be a wholly spiritual performance. The show began slowly; an ambient piece played as the performance began. The spotlight was on a solitary dancer, weaving her magic as her arms spun crutch-like attachments in order to form the illusion of wings. This turned out to be effectively unnecessary as it added nothing to the performance as a whole and the performer wasn�t seen again until the closing of the show. As she vacated the stage to a bemused applause, the sound of the Britten Sinfonia began, catching the audience off-guard as it rung out from the darkness to begin �Rapture�. However, it seemed that Hegarty�s voice was lost in the sound for a short while.

By the conclusion of the first song, the light show had begun. Lasers on either side of a translucent curtain created a solid 3D effect that crept out to the audience and was truly mesmerising. Hegarty was still hidden from view as the curtain separated the performer from the audience, just as the solid curtain behind the initial dancer had separated us further. Once the secondary curtain was removed, the stage was revealed. A hanging set piece and plain white walls were all that was necessary. Hegarty was stood alone dressed entirely in white. As the performance continued, the singer�s voice filled the stage and the room, overthrowing the competitive volume produced by the orchestra who were still nowhere to be seen � the orchestral pit was empty.

The light show often played along with the vocal performance, visually recreating Hegarty�s ethereal tones on the plain backdrop. Visuals were also provided by Hegarty himself, his arms were flowing and he would recede from the spotlight when his voice was not required.
The highlight of the night was �I Fell in Love With a Dead Boy� from the eponymous EP. Hauntingly beautiful, it was astounding to see its vocal realisation on stage. After the initial verse and during its short interlude, a third curtain was raised. This allowed the audience to see a spectral shadow, reminiscent of the winged performer from the beginning of the show, as Hegarty continued with the song and poured out his heart and soul across the stage and down through the audience.

During the final piece, �Her Eyes Are Underneath The Ground�, the fourth curtain was raised to uproarious applause as the Britten Sinfonia were eventually revealed. Swanlights deservedly came to a close with a standing ovation.

Expressing relief at the end of the performance, it was clear that Hegarty was now out of character. The audience gave a second standing ovation following the encore; the atmosphere was electric.

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