Ambitious, imaginative and well executed, Imago is Glyndebourne’s latest community opera.
Languishing in a care home, Elizabeth is offered an Imago system, a computer-linked visor which allows her to create her virtual self (the 18-year-old Lisette) that inhabits a cyberworld. After losing her way in a bout of gambling, and after shaking off a cyber-stalker, Lisette falls in love with Gulliver (whose real-world ‘host’ is the elder son of Elizabeth’s therapist). Gradually, Elizabeth becomes addicted to her younger avatar and, on her death, becomes one with her.
Gough’s score is often minimalist in style, with edgy wind and brass colouring repeated riffs, but there are plenty of intimate, lyrical moments too, and the music takes centre stage in the set-piece of Lisette and Gulliver’s doo-wop style a cappella wedding, complete with a hip pastor (radiantly sung by George Ikediashi). Finn Ross’s video animations, often running the full width and height of the three-tier set are brilliantly conceived and deftly integrated into the whole.
Jean Rigby sings warmly as the initially crabby Elizabeth, and sounds completely at ease in this (for her) relatively unfamiliar idiom - though she is not always audible. Joanna Songi is the bright-eyed Lisette with a voice to match. With a fruity baritone and solid stage presence, Adam Gilbert impresses as Gulliver. Nicholas Collon conducts a 19-piece Aurora Orchestra, swelled to more than double that number by young student musicians.
There may be some small storytelling details that need sharpening in this intergenerational undertaking, but it’s a very smart, collaboratively conceived production that has hit the ground running.