It’s 19.55 when The Royal Opera House is full and ready to welcome Antony & The Johnsons for Swanlights, a show that will exceed all expectations.
At 20.01 the lights are off, a strange, beautiful “creature” that looks like a crossbreed between a human being, an animal and a tree takes the centre of the stage and starts dancing a sort of tribal dance on a hypnotising rhythm that alters the atmosphere in the theatre.
Then the lights are off again… the theatre is immersed into total darkness now. “Eyes are falling Lips are falling”… from obscurity, Antony Hegarty’s velvety, heavenly voice lights up the audience. “Rapture”, one of his most beautiful, moving songs is performed in thick darkness, and we are propelled to another dimension, far away into the spiritual world. From here on I realise this concert is not going to be just another beautiful show but quite a cathartic experience, where Art reaches the core of the audience’s soul.
The second song is “Cristina’s Farm”, Antony The Great (as his fans like to call him) is singing still undisclosed and immersed into darkness while the light effects are playing above his head, almost revealing him.
The show evolves adding more and more light to each song, showing a barefoot Antony dressed in a white vest at the centre of a completely white stage. From the slow “Everything is new” and “Another World”, to the exceptional cover of Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love”, Antony’s performance sounds and looks perfect. His voice is delicate and well-balanced, he never screams to reach the highest pitches; he delivers an amazing theatrical performance during “Ghost”, facing the left wall of the stage, singing to his own shadow… “Ghost, ghost, leap from my heart… Chase the river, Chase the sunlight, Do not stay”. The closer we get to the end of the show, the more emotional it gets. The rhythm gets faster, the lasers weaving gracious patterns while the amazing Britten Sinfonia is revealed on stage behind Antony’s back. In the meanwhile, the public has already granted 2 standing ovations, amazed by the grace of what they are witnessing. During “Cut The World”, for a second I take a look at the audience: they are completely frozen, hypnotised.
“I fell in love with a dead boy” brings the highest emotional peak of the whole show: Antony’s voice sounds noticeably touched, the audience is moved to tears by the sweetness of the moment. “I fell in love with you, Now you’re my one, only one, ‘Cause all my life I’ve been so blue, But in that moment you fulfilled me, no one’s gonna take you away from me, I fell in love with a dead boy”. Time for the 3rd standing ovation: Antony holds the audience in the palm of his hand.
And yet, there’s one more surprise. During the encore, Antony introduces an unexpected guest on stage: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mr. Boy George. The duo delivers a bewitching performance of “You are my sister” – surprisingly George’s voice sounds beautifully huskier than usual – which earns the show the 4th standing ovation. The palms of our hands are bruised by now.
“The Crying Light” closes the show. Antony is visibly touched by the public’s 5th standing ovation, he looks overwhelmed in his humble, gracious composure… time has flown so fast. If I had to find a negative side to this experience it would certainly be it didn’t last enough. 80 minutes of Antony’s live voice and music only make you want to have more, so at the end of the show I found myself praying one day he will make proper, longer tours.
As I wrote above, this show is quite different from everything that I have experienced before. I have been to many concerts in my life, from Michael Jackson, to Sting, to Muse, Queen, Steve Wonder, Skunk Anansie, Anastacia, and many more. Some of them were exceptionally great, almost perfect, but – Michael Jackson apart – none of them was as cathartic as this, even though I really enjoyed them. This went way beyond the concept of live show. Antony Hegarty came up with a sublime piece of Art where the frequency of the sound was represented by the evolution of Light – the evolution of the human race from darkness to light. It’s no secret he has a special connection to Mother Earth and the Feminine, by his own admission he is a woman trapped into the body of a man (When I was a young boy, Mama said, “You better watch out for the fall”, but now that I’m a grown woman and I know, I can see the cold – from “Frankenstein”); he actually has the sensitivity of a woman: the sweetness in his voice, the delicacy of his music and the fragility that envelopes his being… everything makes you think he could actually be from another world, far away, where musicians are denuded of any form of ego and contractual duties, just delivering the highest expression of God through their pure talent.
Considering the arrogance, the cockiness, the endless masks and the coarseness that characterise most of today’s pop/rock/rap idols, Antony’s gracious class doesn’t fit the pop scene at all. The “nudity” of his soul recalls more of the visceral beauty of a breathtaking sunset than the talent of a great singer, even though he is, indeed, one of the greatest singers of our times.
COMPLETE SET LIST:
For Today I am a Boy
Everything is new
Crazy in Love (Beyonce’s cover)
I fell in love with a dead boy
Dust and water
Cut the world
Cripple and the Starfish
Her eyes are underneath the ground
Salt, silver, oxygen
You are my sister (duet with Boy George)
The Crying Light