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.
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
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.
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
“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.