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Project summary

Following the success of Knight Crew in 2010, we commissioned Orlando Gough (composer), Stephen Plaice (librettist), Susannah Waters (director), Es Devlin and Bronia Housman (designers) to devise and create Imago , a new opera for the digital age.

Imago premiered at Glyndebourne in early March 2013 with a cast including professional singers and performers drawn from the local community. The Aurora Orchestra were joined by young instrumentalists who were conducted by Nicholas Collon.

Orlando’s previous community opera, On the Rim of the World, received its world premiere at Glyndebourne in 2009, whilst Stephen Plaice wrote the libretto for a number of previous Glyndebourne projects, including Misper, Zoë and School 4 Lovers.

Imago won the Royal Philharmonic Society award for Learning and Participation at the RPS awards dinner on 13 May 2014.


Act I

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.

Lisette disappears, only to reappear in the virtual world. 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.

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.


In the real world, Rufus scolds his younger 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.

Finally Rufus is left alone to play with Imago, and we go back into Imago and Xanadu. Suddenly he begins to lose power and Lisette fears for him. Zak tells her she needs to take Gulliver to the Recharge Cafe.

As Gulliver recovers strength, it begins to feel like a date. Lisette explains to Gulliver that her host is holding her back. When she rebels against her, Elizabeth pulls the plug. Back in the care home, the patients are having their machines removed for the night. Elizabeth doesn’t want hers taken away and her protest is gradually taken up by the other patients, but the machines are still switched off.


Act II

Lisette is playing roulette at The Last Chance Casino. 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, 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. Andy explains that the Imagos can gradually act with increasing independence from their hosts. 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. 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, reminding her this was only a virtual demonstration. 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 a capella wedding, presided over by an extremely hip vicar.

Rufus’ mother shares her concerns with Andy. Their son seems to relate better to his imago than to reality. They confront Rufus, who 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.

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. 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 shared. Naples rises. As Elizabeth breathes her last, Lisette dies in Gulliver’s arms.


'Being in the chorus for Imago, what an amazing experience!'

- Helen Lacey, Imago chorus member

Cast list

Elizabeth - Jean Rigby
Andy - Daniel Norman
Lisette - Joanna Songi
The Moderator - Zac West
Annie - Freya Wynn-Jones
Gulliver - Adam Gilbert
Zak - Mark Enticknap
Rory - Raefn Webber/Flint Pascoe-Easterby
Rufus - James Brock
Stella - Thomasin Trezise
Nurse - Jenny McCalmont
Croupier - Michelle Restieux
The Admirer - Adam Drew
Hip Vicar - George Ikediashi
Doctor - Steve Hawksley

Creative team

Composer - Orlando Gough
Librettist - Stephen Plaice
Director - Susannah Waters
Movement Director - Christopher Tudor
Chorus Master - Lee Reynolds
Assistant Director - Fiona Dunn
Assistant Conductor - Christopher Stark