Orlando Gough


7 March - 9 March 2013

A new opera for the digital age

What if you could live a second life, look the way you want to look, and be whoever you wanted to be?

Imago is a pulsating new community opera which unites the generations from 16 to 90 to answer this question. Orlando Gough, Stephen Plaice and Susannah Waters produced a La bohème for the Internet-age, with Bronia Housman and Olympic designer Es Devlin turning the Glyndebourne stage into a cyber-world, where characters and locations miraculously appear and vanish at the click of a mouse...

Professional singers, including Jean Rigby (Le nozze di Figaro - Tour 2012, The Cunning Little Vixen - Festival 2012), shared Glyndebourne's main stage with amateur soloists and a 70-strong chorus from the local community. The Aurora Orchestra and its award-winning conductor Nicholas Collon were joined in the pit by some of the region's most talented young instrumentalists.

Discover more about Imago

Visit the Imago blog

Watch the video diary from Chorus member Hazel

Review the tweets with Storify

"Ambitious, imaginative and well executed", says The Stage.

"...a glorious affirmation that opera is a vibrant art form in our digital generation", says Gramophone.

“This is a very busy, and buzzy, opera", says The Arts Desk in a five star review.

"...a striking success", says The Times. Review behind paywall.

"...a genuine success", says The Guardian in a four star review.

"...a daring, involving and spectacularly produced new opera", says Music OMH in their four star review.

Join Imago the opera

Imago FacebookImago Twitter

Act 1

Elizabeth is bed-bound in the geriatric ward of a care-home. Her fellow patients lie around her, each in their own world. But rather than being lost in the past, Elizabeth’s imagination is still active and exploratory.

Andy, the hospital’s occupational therapist, wheels in his latest therapeutic tool – Imago. With this system, Elizabeth can create an imago of herself, then launch it into a virtual world, where it will simulate everything she still wants to experience. Andy helps her to programme the computer. He places the Imago glasses on Elizabeth’s head, and the imago she has created – Lisette – appears, a stunning younger version of herself. Andy leaves Elizabeth alone with the system to experiment with it. With Lisette’s help, Elizabeth modifies her imago until it is ready to be launched.

Lisette disappears, only to reappear in the virtual world. She finds herself on a teleport platform where other imagos are departing for their virtual destinations. A Moderator explains the cardinal rule of Imago – Don’t ever reveal your identity. Lisette makes friends with another girl on the platform, Annie. Together, they meet Gulliver – an arrogant young man. He’s heading for the Big Gig in Xanadu tonight where he’s fronting The Headshots, a virtual pop band. Zak, the bass-player, invites Lisette to come and watch. The band flies out. Lisette isn’t keen, but Annie persuades her to go along.

In Xanadu, Lisette and Annie watch Gulliver perform with The Headshots. Annie  begins to probe Lisette’s host identity and suggests that they meet up in the real world.  Lisette realizes that the host behind Annie is predatory, so she loses herself in the crowd. On stage Gulliver suddenly comes to a complete standstill. We hear his host voices off. They take us into…

… fifteen-year-old Rufus’s bedroom. He is scolding his  younger old brother Rory for using his dad’s Imago system. Their mother, Stella, comes in to settle the argument. She thinks computer games just make people unhappy. But their dad, Andy, intervenes. He explains the system is meant for his elderly patients to enhance the end of their lives. Finally Rufus is left alone to play with Imago, and we go back into Imago and Xanadu – only this time Gulliver is not such a brash adolescent, and his music is  acoustic and emo. Suddenly he begins to lose power. Lisette is concerned for him. Zak tells her she needs to take Gulliver to the Recharge Cafe.

It’s a Mediterranean quayside café, almost deserted. As Gulliver recovers strength, it begins to feel like a date. They are just about to enjoy their first kiss when Elizabeth intervenes. Lisette is being too forward. Lisette explains to Gulliver that her host is holding her back. When her younger self rebels against her, Elizabeth pulls the plug.

Back in the care home, the patients are having their machines removed for the night. But Elizabeth doesn’t want hers taken away. Her protest is gradually taken up by the other patients. One by one, the beautiful imagos the old people have created disappear as their machines are switched off

Act 2

The last chance casino. Lisette is playing roulette, gambling on the red. She has gathered a circle of admirers around her. Finally she stakes everything on the red and loses. One of the admirers offers her more stake-money. But she must bet her hotel room key against it. She plays and loses, and is forced to take the admirer back to her room, only now recognizing that he is the same cyber stalker behind Annie. But Lisette has the last laugh. The admirer returns alone, complaining that she has stolen his wallet.

Elizabeth doesn’t approve of the way Lisette is behaving, playing fast and loose. Andy explains that the Imagos can gradually act with increasing independence from their hosts. It is built into the system. The doctor is concerned the game is exacerbating Elizabeth’s high blood pressure. Andy asks her if she wants the machine taken away. But she is addicted to it now, and she wants Lisette to find Gulliver again.

Lisette finds him at a pro-democracy demonstration, making an inspired speech to the crowd, urging them to take back the wealth that the older generation has robbed them of. At the height of the speech, he is picked off by a sniper and dies in Lisette’s arms. She is devastated. Elizabeth now recalls the loss of her own first love, killed in a motorbike smash when she was only eighteen. To Lisette’s amazement, Gulliver miraculously recovers. He reminds Lisette this was only a virtual demonstration, for keyboard warriors. Lisette feels the pull of her host again. Elizabeth wants security for the young lovers. She wants them to get married.

Gulliver and Lisette duly celebrate their marriage, but they put their own twist on it. It is an acapella wedding, presided over by an extremely hip vicar.

Rufus’s mother shares her concerns with Andy. Their son seems to relate better to his Imago than to reality. They confront Rufus. He argues that if his father uses system at work, it must be safe. Andy decides the whole family should go into work with their father and see what the game is really used for. 

Gulliver and Lisette are honeymooning on a tropical beach. Lisette is becoming increasingly unsettled. All the possibilities of the life Elizabeth could have led now crowd in on her simultaneously. Meanwhile, back in the care-home, Elizabeth is repeating the saying: see Naples and die. Naples is the one place Lisette doesn’t want to go.

Andy and his family are at the care home. Elizabeth is dying. The doctor wants to administer a euthanasic dose of drugs. Andy sees that, at the point of death, Elizabeth is merging with her imago. It is a kind of blissful transcendence - his system is going to be a success. Elizabeth calls out for Gulliver – Rufus now realizes that she is Lisette’s host. He has been besotted with the personality of the old woman, and yet their hopes and desires were held in common. Naples rises. As Elizabeth breathes her last, Lisette dies in Gulliver’s arms.

Stephen Plaice

Creative, Production and Music staff

Composer Orlando Gough
Librettist Stephen Plaice
Director Susannah Waters
Designer Es Devlin & Bronia Housman
Conductor Nicholas Collon
Lighting Designer Paul Pyant
Video Designer Finn Ross
Movement Director Chris Tudor
Assistant Director Fiona Dunn
Chorus Master Lee Reynolds
Music Preparation Nick Bosworth


Elizabeth an elderly woman Jean Rigby

Andy an occupational therapist Daniel Norman

Lisette Elizabeth's imago Joanna Songi

The Moderator Zachary West

Annie an imago in her 20s Freya Wynn-Jones

Gulliver Rufus’ imago Adam Gilbert

Zak band mate of Gulliver Mark Enticknap

Stella Andy’s wife  Thomasin Trezise     

Rory Andy Stella’s 2nd born son Raefn Webber / Flint Pascoe-Easterby

Rufus Andy & Stella’s 1st born son  James Brock    

Nurse Jenny McCalmont   

Croupier Michele Restieux

The Admirer an imago in his 30s Adam Drew (same host as Annie)

Doctor Steve Hawksley

Hip Vicar George Ikediashi

Imago Chorus, Photo: Robert Workman
Joanna Songi as Lisette and Freya Wynn-Jones as Annie in Imago, Photo: Robert Workman
Adam Gilbert as Gulliver and the Chorus in Imago, Photo: Robert WorkmanImago, Photo: Robert Workman
Jean Rigby as Elizabeth in Imago, Photo: Robert Workman
Imago Chorus, Photo: Robert Workman
Adam Gilbert as Gulliver and Joanna Songi as Lisette in Imago, Photo: Robert Workman
Imago, Photo: Robert Workman
Imago, Photo: Robert Workman
Imago, Photo: Robert Workman
Thomasin Trezise as Stella and Daniel Norman as Andy in Imago, Photo: Robert Workman
Flint Pascoe-Easterby as Rory and James Brock as Rufus in Imago, Photo: Robert Workman
Joanna Songi as Lisette in Imago, Photo: Robert Workman
Imago, Photo: Robert Workman
George Ikediashi as Hip Vicar in Imago, Photo: Robert Workman
Imago Chorus, Photo: Robert Workman

“Ambitious, imaginative and well executed”, say The Stage in their review of Imago. Read it here.

"...a glorious affirmation that opera is a vibrant art form in our digital generation." says Antony Craig of Gramophone magazine. Read his blog review here.

Imago composer, Orlando Gough, tells the Financial Times about the experience of writing his first full-length opera describing the music as "slippery and unpredictable". Read the interview on the Financial Times website.

The Stage preview Imago and talk to Susannah Waters about the advantages of staging the piece at Glyndebourne. Read it here.

Viva Brighton have interviewed Imago librettist and long-time Brighton resident, Stephen Plaice. Read it here.

Imago principals, Jean Rigby (Elizabeth) and Joanna Songi (Lisette), spent The Opera Hour with Richard Scott on Resonance FM. Listen to the podcast here.


Fantastic evening March 7th.
Great music, conductor, orchestra, singers, set, lighting, projections, costumes, colour, and THE CHORUS!!!!
Very 'now' and very moving.
Wonderful creative talent all round!
When can we see it again? Don't leave it too long we are getting on in year's!
One of the best productions we have seen at Glyndebourne (first visit 1969).
We would like to see more modern Opera like this.
Tried many times to post a comment on the production page over the last week and failed but wanted you to know what we thought.
Well done everyone.
Mike & Mo Edwards.


What a fabulous production! An unusual refreshing storyline. The energy of the cast was infectious. The ticket price allows a different audience to experience the sense of occasion and beauty of this magnificent place. A great opportunity for talented amateurs and surrounding community. More please.

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