Following the overwhelming success of Misper in 1997, Glyndebourne was keen to build on the enthusiasm generated and commission another work from composer John Lunn and librettist Stephen Plaice for young people to both attend and perform in. Both John and Stephen led workshops in Brighton and Hove Schools and Colleges to involve young people in the creative process and the all important storyline. Zoë was aimed at 12 - 18 year-olds, a slightly older age-group than Misper. Rehearsals began in January 2000 and culminated in five performances at Glyndebourne between 1 - 4 March 2000 with the Brighton Youth Orchestra. Zoë was very successful with critics and audiences who praised the ‘darkling-chromatic, noir-ish’ sound (the Financial Times) and its cast of ‘stars’ (The Independent). “If I see another opera as enthralling as Zoë this year” summed up Richard Morrison in the Times, “I shall count myself very lucky.” In December 2000 Channel 4 produced and broadcast Zoë. The broadcast was a hit, capturing the imagination of all ages.
Former film star Sophie Lavalle asks private detective Casey Flood to help her find the daughter she had adopted eighteen years before. Her only clues are photographs she receives once a year of a girl growing up, each one marked 'Her birthday'. The girl looks exactly like her. Playing the role of a talent spotter for a record label, he discovers Zoë Herkomer – the spitting-image of her mother – in a sixth-form college at Adambridge, where fellow students Luke and Felix have become obsessed with her, as has her film studies teacher, Mr Traherne. Felix invites her to sing with his band, the Mains, and Zoë's tryout is successful. Afterwards, Luke walks Zoë home. Her father's business is genetic engineering: her mother died when she was born. Flood and Sophie Lavalle turn up at Zoë's home to discover the truth. Dr Herkomer turns out to be a former obsessive fan of Sophie's, to whom she once gave a lock of her hair. From this, he explains, he cloned Zoë. Suddenly, Zoë turns up. Two years later, Zoë is living with Mr Traherne. On the TV news she recognises Luke, now an eco-warrior demonstrating against Herkomer's activities. She joins him in a raid on her father's business in which Herkomer is accidentally killed. Zoë is tried and sentenced to life imprisonment. Five years later, Luke – just released himself – visits her in Holloway Prison. The effects of cloning have aged Zoë alarmingly and the two decide to poison themselves. Back in Casey Flood's office, some time after Zoë's funeral, a young girl comes in called Emilia Smith. She is the replica of Zoë, and she wants him to find her mother…
Composer John Lunn
Book and lyrics Stephen Plaice
Director Stephen Langridge
Conductor James Morgan
Designer Conor Murphy
Choreographer Vanessa Gray
Lighting Designer Keith Benson
Starring: Geoffrey Dolton, Fiona Campbell, Richard Coxon, Jonathan Viera, Daniel Gill, Emily Gilchrist, Gemma Ticehurst, Rebecca Bowden, Mark Enticknap
Brighton Youth Orchestra
Première: 1st March 2000
'Perfect Ten out of Teen. If I see another opera as enthralling as Zoë this year I shall count myslef very lucky... Plaice, normally found supplying gritty slices of urban verismo for the Bill, has devised a story that moves swiftly and surely from tongue-in-cheek Raymond Chandler pastiche to a wild genetic nightmare, without ever straining credulity.'
Richard Morrison The Times
'What a pleasure to experience something so enjoyable, so full of depth, angry energy, warmth and invention that the label 'contemporary opera for teenagers' seems inadequate. The exuberant, hard-hitting piece, more musical theatre than opera, held its audience gripped from start to finish. Standards were impressive, the energy infectious. The whoops and whistles were deserved'.
Fiona Maddocks The Observer
' The result, splendidly staged and perfromed by a mixture of energetic and accomplished professionals and young amateurs, is punchy and enjoyable.'
Rupert Christiansen The Telegraph