Sword swallower makes opera debut after near-fatal accident with neon tube

16 May 2014, 11:53 | Updated: 18 September 2014, 15:55

Circus performer Hannibal Clem is set to appear at English National Opera tonight, two years after accidentally tearing his oesophagus live on stage.

The performance artist was hospitalised in 2012 after attempting to swallow a neon tube of light as part of his show. He was put into a coma and doctors were forced to perform an emergency tracheotomy during his three-and-a-half weeks in intensive care.

Following his life-changing accident, Clem says he is "nervous and excited" to be returning to the stage - this time, as part of Mozart's Così fan tutte in a new production from English National Opera.  He performs a traditional sword swallowing trick as part of the modernised production, set in a funfair in the 1950s.

Gallery: Circus antics & sword swallowing at ENO's Così

Speaking to Classic FM, he explained his motivation for returning to the stage. "I started sword-swallowing again three months after I had the accident - the longer you wait the bigger your fear gets," he said. "An accident is a good reminder that what you're doing is dangerous. You don't want to become complacent.

"I've been sword swallowing for 15 years and I've had one accident, which turned out to be a bad one. It's a calculated risk - my job is no more dangerous than being a chef in a kitchen or a scaffolder. It's an occupational hazard; with any job, things can go wrong! If you know what you're doing it's fine but there's no guarantee."

Despite being more familiar with the world of circus performing, Clem has now discovered a love of Mozart and hopes to work with opera companies in the future.

"I've never been in an opera before," he said. "I love it, I'm a big fan - and it's really, really beautiful. If you go to an old fun fair, there's loads of romance and showmanship, which works perfectly with the story and Mozart's music."

He added: "Go and see the opera - great set, great singers, it's an amazing show, we're like a little family on stage."


Così fan tutte opens this evening and runs for 12 performances at the London Coliseum until July 6.