A new opera for the digital age tells a startling and moving story of when wishes refuse to die
- Imago is a new, full-scale opera written by Orlando Gough with a libretto by Stephen Plaice. It is directed by Susannah Waters with designs by Es Devlin and Bronia Housman.
- Ninety amateur performers of all ages will perform alongside professionals on the main stage at Glyndebourne in a project designed to develop their talent.
- The story centres on an online gaming world which is being used as a therapeutic tool in a care home and explores our desire for friendship and romance at any age.
- The project is the latest initiative from Glyndebourne’s education department and is supported using public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
A new opera, set partly in a virtual reality, will have its world premiere at Glyndebourne in March with a community cast of 90 amateur performers from across the South East. Participants range in age from teenagers to those in their 70s and will perform alongside professionals on the main stage and in the orchestra pit, in a project designed to develop their talent.
Imago is the first community opera at Glyndebourne since Knight Crew in 2010 and continues Glyndebourne’s 25-year history of delivering innovative education work. It is composed by Orlando Gough with a libretto by Stephen Plaice, and will be directed by Susannah Waters with designs by Es Devlin and Bronia Housman.
The story centres on an online gaming world used as a therapeutic tool in a care home. An elderly resident named Elizabeth uses the game to create her own avatar, and in the virtual world falls in love with the avatar of a teenage boy. The opera explores the importance of friendship and romance at all stages of our lives and echoes research recently published by Age UK which showed that two-thirds of over-65s believe it’s important to have a romantic companion.
Explaining the inspiration for the opera, Imago director, Susannah Waters said:
“When the creative team came together to devise Imago we had all recently experienced the taking into care or death of a parent, and we started talking about the experience of a care home, the isolation of those places. What if, we wondered, a way of connecting with the online world was bought into a place like this and used as a kind of therapy? As parents we’re also conscious that some modern teenage friendships exist online rather than in person. From there we arrived at the idea of creating an online relationship between different generations, both parties unaware of the other person’s age.”
The chorus were recruited through open auditions to find talented local singers who could take on a demanding musical score. For the younger cast members the project is an opportunity to perform in a world-class venue and learn from professionals. For the older adults, Imago is the culmination of a life-long passion for performing.
Around 20 young instrumentalists will play in the orchestra pit alongside professionals from Aurora Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Collon. The score for Imago encompasses a broad range of musical styles and is the first full-length opera by composer Orlando Gough, best known for his work with alternative choir, The Shout.
Orlando Gough, Imago composer, said:
“The fact that a large part of Imago takes place in a kind of ‘Second Life’ means that it looks and sounds very different from a 19th century opera. It’s very vivid, unpredictable, slippery. People can appear and disappear instantaneously, can die and come back to life, and their voices can change and disintegrate and revive.”
Imago has been commissioned by Glyndebourne and Scottish Opera and made possible thanks to support from a number of individuals and organisations, including the National Lottery through Arts Council England, Beyond Borders from the PRS Foundation for Music and the MariaMarina Foundation.
Imago premieres at Glyndebourne on 7 March 2013 with two further performances on the 8 and 9 March. Tickets are available now through the Glyndebourne Box Office on 01273 815000 or online at www.glyndebourne.com.
 The Importance of Lifelong Love, Age UK, 12 December 2012. http://www.ageuk.org.uk/latest-press/the-importance-of-lifelong-love